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Patch Editor Responds to City Council Criticism

Councilman Bill Martin said last week: “’The Patch' isn't real journalism and nobody reads it."

I wasn’t at the Monday. I was covering from abroad.

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 , offered the following statement:

“’The Patch' isn't real journalism and nobody reads it," Councilman Bill Martin said.

Real journalism.

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, , using a live chat system that enabled up-to-the-second updates for people clamoring for information as the storm came through town.

Real journalism?

During the flood in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Lee, Patch did the same: providing and informing residents and businesses of the levels of flooding on the Susquehanna.

Real journalism?

When the last fall, Patch provided up-to-the-minute information about the . That reporting aided in the city's response.

Wait, real journalism?

Within the first three months after the site launched, Patch teamed up with in the Visitor’s Center to at . The community outpouring was tremendous.

Hmm.

Last election season, for more than 100 students at , introducing the future of our city to the election process.

This year, Patch’s comprehensive pre-election behind the largest non-mayoral voter turnout in the city’s history.

Ah.

So 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, .

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 .

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.

Sean Welsh July 10, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Thanks for the comments, everyone. I wanted to say that Councilman Bill Martin and I spoke this morning at City Hall during a previously-planned meeting between myself and Mayor Wayne Dougherty. City Director of Administration Carol Mathis attended, as well. Councilman Martin said he respects the job I do with Patch, as I respect the work Councilman Martin does for the City. I want to assure all readers that Patch's coverage will remain fair and unbiased. Again, thank you for all of the compliments. I welcome any criticisms, tips or critiques. You can reach me by email: sean.welsh@patch.com or by phone/text at 443-299-7702. -Sean
Tom Barnes July 10, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Scott Hurst - this is when a "like" button would be great. ;) We share the same sentiments about the out of hand comments and comments that have no bearing on the actual story. We wonder where bullying comes from within the younger generations? Just read some of the comments on this and other stories. Not much to wonder about, honestly. Really, it just comes down to catty people being themselves, misconstruing prior conversations or trying to garner some form of attention or "settle a score" (I guess they never seem to think that it's a bad representation of not only themselves but of our town, especially from those outside the area that read the comments). But, it's HDG; we've come to expect it from some and can only guess at the hidden identities of others. Bottom line is the Patch does a good job, we all exercise our freedom of speech (no matter how poorly) and Bill does obviously care about the town and does his job FOR us - not *against* us. It truly does come down to this: "Lord, let my words be sweet and tender for tomorrow I may have to eat them." Even *I* wrestle with that one...
Biller's Bikes July 10, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Havre de Grace is fortunate that the AOL/Huffington Post people chose HdG as a test market. Mr. Martin's frustration with an engaged media and electorate is understandable; politicians aren't crazy about folks watching their sausage being made. Havre de Grace is undergoing rapid change and Patch is reporting on it. Hope Mr. Martin musters an apology to Patch's local editor, Sean Welsh, and its thousands of "nobody" readers and citizens. -Walter Biller
Wendy McNally July 10, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I had never met Nancy Jacobs until First Friday, July 6. I purposely sought her out to thank her for the work she did in keeping tolls fair for us locals on the Hatem Bridge, and for being involved in the community and a voice for our concerns. I had not yet introduced myself, but she called me by name and thanked ME for my outward support of her on facebook. We had a lovely discussion and her appreciation for my support was so clearly genuine. I find her to be a class act and I'm very pleased that she has chosen to step up to the plate for the community. I, like you, Brian, am a relative newcomer to town, and it's not always easy to 'fit in'. I'm glad that you're enjoying our lovely city already, and I hope that you and your family will call Havre de Grace home for a very long time. Welcome!
William Watson July 10, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Perhaps its a good thing that the article on "the fence" was written and the responses made. Sometimes it takes a little dust up to clear the air. It also allows for a process where people can judge for themselves responsible, fair, reporting and likewise, responsible commenting by the public. I, for one, am an ardent proponent of a free and expansive press. One of the prices of true liberty is that sometimes things end up in print or, in this day, digitally, that bear a less than "genteel" resemblance to journalistic decorum or the truth. At times, controversial reporting of one color can dominate the landscape. But that does not justify a "fairness doctrine" or any other type of censorship designed to quiet a free press. One of the great things about our Republic is its people and their right to think as they please. In this local case a few good things probably resulted. Patch, I'm sure, will double their efforts to report fairly on all sides of a controversial issue. Our politicians will be more cognizant that the press is watching and finally, those who make inappropriate comments designed to impugn personal reputations and who have political agendas will be exposed. All in all, a good thing.
shalonn lawson July 10, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Sean,I began reading the Patch several years ago and believed it to be a real asset to the community. Your reporting was timely and I agree with one reader you seemed to be everywhere,but over the last year I have read the Patch less and less because of the ugliness which seemed to dominate this publication. The negativity seemed to begin during the previous election for Mayor and has deteriorated from there. Honestly, I had forgotten the positive contributions you have and continue to make until you pointed them out. Sean you are correct,the Patch has the ability to galvanize a community, it also has the ability to divide a community. Many of the citizen comments are deliberately distorted and create animosity within the community. I too know and respect Bill Martin and believe his statement was made out of frustration with inappropriate comments repeatedly being made and not being flagged. A very few people continually comment on the Patch with their personal agenda of dividing the city council,the citizens and the community.Sean, it is my hope that you will more closely monitor these comments and use your obvious influence among your readers to promote a positive,proud and cohesive community.
Kathleen O'Brien July 10, 2012 at 09:49 PM
With the state of modern journalism, it's nice to have an information outlet period. It's nice to have editor who is actually in the community. And focussed on HdG? What a treat. Is it the New York Times? No. But last week, NPR did a sad, but great report on how 'news' is delivered to the public on a massive scale. Currently, due to layoffs and paper closures, many articles are written by people across the country and in some cases, abroad. When we moved here, we couldn't believe the fish wrap they called a paper. It is unfortunately still the case. One of my big disappointments in Harford County, is that they never raise the bar. Harford is an old county, but it should be on par with the rest of the modern world. We like our town, we like our friends - but for goodness sakes - join the 21st century. Be proactive in informed and knowledgable discussions of issues. If politicians thought about doing real research on issues before they spoke, they might not have so much trouble.
Kathleen O'Brien July 10, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Thanks, Tom. I concur. Astute and kind. Politicos, buck up and brush up on your facts.
Kathleen O'Brien July 10, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Perfect.
Kathleen O'Brien July 10, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Perfect.
Kathleen O'Brien July 10, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Wow. These comments are eye-opening to me. I don't always read the news or the Patch. The city and county governments have always struck and intrigued me with how they get away with so many massive blunders in conflict-of-interest maneuvers. When was the last time a real, bonafide, independent audit was taken of the city and county? I have so so many questions about the money trails and the contracts awarded. This is a big problem in my opinion.
Kathleen O'Brien July 10, 2012 at 10:14 PM
And yes, Sean, you are an excellent editor and writer. But you do need a 'like' button, too. Thanks to Miss McLHinney, too. Your comments were well said.
James Foley July 10, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Sean for MAYOR!!!
Captain Steve Weisbrod July 10, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Popular In PA. Quite a few people who live in Pennsylvania but spend their weekends on their boats in (and around) HdG read the Patch. It's how they keep up with the news at their "other home". They probably don't count with the politicos since they're not registered voters in Maryland but they sure count when it comes to spending money here. Anyway, the Patch's strong suit is 'ultra local news' so it's where I go when I want to know about happenings in HdG. (thinking about changing my Patch I.D. to "just another nobody")......(just kidding!) Keep up the great work Sean.
Daria July 10, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Well said, Mr. Watson!
Cheri Withers July 11, 2012 at 12:24 AM
I appreciate your work! Thank you! Cheri Withers
Diana Caudill July 11, 2012 at 01:33 AM
I am new to the Patch but find myself checking each night to see what is happening in Havre de Grace. Though I live outside City limits, I went to school in Havre de Grace and have had ties there most of my life. Maybe the voters need to remember his comments come next election. Seems like there would be more important business during Council meetings than putting down someone who is trying to keep us up to date on current happening in Havre de Grace. Keep up the good work
Curtis Coon July 11, 2012 at 02:08 AM
churches say people vote with their feet; pundits simply tweet; Retailers see the vote of the wallet; Umpires just call it (as they see it). Voters who are interested, usually educated, wanting to watch -- have a hard time finding a match for Patch.
Hollee Sifford July 11, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Well I have been a "PATCHER" since DAY1!!!I lookk to it for all Havredegrace,BelAir,Aberdeen etc...BUT...Hdg patch is what I consider my home town pulse button..I refer MANY people both locals nd visitors to check this out daily..I also try my best to help Sean stay informed on school based events as he does have many other hats the most important one being a DAD!!!Yet he still manges to take care of his wonderful family and he is devoted readers..Mr.Martin as it has been said you yourself used the Patch to make your political statement,Sure everyone has an opinion well just to let you know that is part of JOURNALISM!!!!Sean NEVER EVER stop doing what you do and my friend as i read all these comments there are VERY FEW BILL MARTINS on this site ..one more thing... THANK YOU SIR!!!!.
Ellen Eltgroth July 11, 2012 at 10:52 AM
I am so glad to hear that you are monitoring comments Axe on the patch. Many who hide their identity have made snide remarks. As to your response to my comment earlier, thanks that it was timely and, as always, respectful. However, my complaint still stands. ""The fence that rings the immaculate waterview home that was recognized by the city’s historic preservation committee." In my opinion, the wording of this sentence could still imply that the fence was recognized. And Sean, it is the Havre de Grace Historic Preservation Commission, not Commitee. Keep up the good work. I like the Patch because it is truly local. It seemed to me that in recent years the the Record had a lot of Bel Air news, and wasn't really about Havre de Grace.
Ellen Eltgroth July 11, 2012 at 10:58 AM
Sean, I don't know where the non-word "Axe" came from, but it was probably was the result of the spell-checker on my mobile device!
Curtis Coon July 11, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Ellen: Quite respectfully but nontheless directly, I believe the proper breakdown of the sentence you quoted puts the preservation committee as recognizing the home, not the fence that rings the home. It is important that we do not ask our journalists to ignore proper sentence structure, for they are probably the final wall between good grammar and slang.
Curtis Cohen July 11, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Want to keep track of who's cruising the park on Friday nights?
Ellen Eltgroth July 11, 2012 at 08:19 PM
In a discussion about the legality of the fence, whether or not the house it surrounds is recognized by the Historic Preservation Comission is irrelevant. I am not asking for Sean to write something ungrammatical. Rather, I was suggesting that it be written so as not to confuse. Why was there any mention of the HPC in regards to the fence?
Ellen Eltgroth July 11, 2012 at 08:20 PM
And it is Commission, not Committee.
Laura S July 11, 2012 at 09:45 PM
I love the Patch -- objective reporting of the stuff that happens in a community, large or small. I wish my town had a Patch! Keep up the good work. The people who complain about Patch are afraid of accountability.
Curtis Coon July 12, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Obviously, whether or not the house that is ringed by the fence is recognized by the Historic Preservation Commission is indeed quite relevant. It is likewise clear and not the least bit confusing. Mention of the HPC highlights the fact that the architectural feature of the fence may either compliment or detract from the historic nature of the house. Confusion only arises if there is a failure to comprehend the plain meaning of the well-constructed sentence.
Hollee Sifford July 12, 2012 at 03:26 AM
I am a FAITHFUL PATCHER"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Phyllis Perzanowski July 13, 2012 at 12:59 PM
The first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do in the evening is read The Patch (Havre de Grace, Aberdeen & Bel Air). By doing this, I am well-informed as to what is happening in my hometown, as well as surrounding towns. I have not subscribed to The Record or The Aegis for quite some time, since there is very little about Havre de Grace included in their news reports. I can get all of the information that I need from The Patch. Thank you, Sean, for doing a great job. Keep up the good work!!
Nancy Sasso Janis July 14, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Very well put, Sean. During long storm related power outages in CT, the mayor of Naugatuck "highjacked" the local Patch when his blog went down. Using smartphones, residents were able to read about where to get water, use electricity, get a meal, and keep up with developments in power restoration. He was MOST appreciative. Patch is more up-to-the-minute than print journalism and many, many people are reading it.

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