Patch Editor Responds to City Council Criticism
Councilman Bill Martin said last week: “’The Patch' isn't real journalism and nobody reads it."
But after returning home, I started to get texts, calls and emails as the night went along, saying that an elected official had trashed Patch in a public forum.
I had some round-about explanations of what was said, but I waited until I could hear it in context myself as I watched the Harford Cable Network broadcast.
One elected official, reacting to an article about the city’s handling of a resident’s fence in a public right-of-way, offered the following statement:
“’The Patch' isn't real journalism and nobody reads it," Councilman Bill Martin said.
That hit me directly in my career.
During Hurricane Irene last year, I left my wife and our two young kids at home, came to downtown Havre de Grace and weathered the storm with the city staff and first responders. From there, we reported throughout the night, using a live chat system that enabled up-to-the-second updates for people clamoring for information as the storm came through town.
During the flood in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Lee, Patch did the same: providing live coverage of the flood and informing residents and businesses of the levels of flooding on the Susquehanna.
When the Occupy marchers rolled into town last fall, Patch provided up-to-the-minute information about the whereabouts of a group of 40 protestors on a chilly night. That reporting aided in the city's response.
Wait, real journalism?
Within the first three months after the site launched, Patch teamed up with Brigitte Peters in the Visitor’s Center to collect coats, hats, gloves and other winter items for students at Havre de Grace Elementary School. The community outpouring was tremendous.
This year, Patch’s comprehensive pre-election coverage was credited as being a driving force behind the largest non-mayoral voter turnout in the city’s history.
So Bill Martin was right—Patch isn’t real journalism.
It’s a hell of a lot more than that.
Sure, there are articles. There is a comprehensive calendar—due, in large part, to our engaged readership that finds value in posting their events for other readers to view. There are directory listings, giving some businesses their primary web presence. There are forums for readers to give their own opinions and tell their own stories—such as the announcements and the Local Voices section.
Oh, and we have comments on each of those items, allowing for open communication. I’d be willing to bet most of you read those.
Patch is half traditional media, half social media.
And there’s the issue.
Some people want Patch to be a traditional newspaper. But to do so would be cheating the readership and the residents of Havre de Grace.
Why settle for less?
Comparing Patch to a traditional print newspaper is both unfair to Patch and a traditional print newspaper.
Let’s go back to those comments for a second. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: they are the bane of my existence. But they’re also what makes Patch great.
We have current and former elected officials, business owners, residents, teachers, students, firefighters, community leaders—you get the point—all using their real names and leaving worthwhile comments.
Then there are those who use pseudonyms. That really seems to irk people—me included.
I’m posting my name to everything I put out there. Heck, my cell phone and email are right there too.
So I understand the frustration when you read a comment from a reader who is going by something that they wouldn’t even name their pet goldfish.
That’s where the difference lies—the journalism is above the comments.
The articles are like the business the City Council carries out from the dais.
The comments are like those from citizens during public comment.
The context and the purpose of both is often entirely different, but that doesn’t make either more or less valuable.
Oh, and the second part of Councilman Martin’s statement: “… and nobody reads it.”
Thanks to all the nobodies who read through the first 700 words of this column.
It’s unfortunate that elected officials in the city feel that nobody they represent reads this platform, because the evidence—both hard readership figures and anecdotal evidence—suggests quite the contrary.
In fact, on the day the councilmember suggested nobody reads the publication, more of you clicked on Havre de Grace Patch than punched a ballot this spring.
But who reads and doesn’t read Patch isn’t of any concern to you. It’s not like a newspaper at the local library: you can read it at the same time a former Havre de Grace resident is reading it in Baltimore, at the same time a deployed resident is reading it in Afghanistan.
I still receive 99 percent positive feedback—but I value, and oftentimes even seek out that 1 percent of negative. I labor to right any wrongs—even the perceived wrongs.
Patch has the ability to galvanize a community—a platform to share information, to share photos, to share moments that become memories.
But like most things in life—it all boils down to how you perceive it and how you use it.
So I’m curious. I want honest feedback here—be it from a real username or a fake one.
TELL US: What is Patch to you? And do you read it? Leave a comment.