Like many of my colleagues, I began my career at a local paper (Louisville in my case) covering local news: the police (we called our outpost at headquarters "the cop shop"), the board of aldermen, the zoning commission and, my favorite, the Metropolitan Sewer District.
The MSD sounded obscure but was a big local deal. Concerns were growing about pollution in the Ohio River, and the MSD had a controversial plan to extend sewer lines (and hefty fees to pay for them) into flood-prone suburbs where septic tanks worked poorly.
I did a story for The Courier-Journal calculating the full cost of the new sewers for homeowners. It was a big number, especially for folks in the blue-collar, semi-rural neighborhoods in question.
The guys at MSD weren't pleased.
But they also knew that our paper was a key player in the community -- a partner, if you will. The story prompted them to clarify their plan, change some things about it, and try to move forward in their own interest, but also for the sake of a city.
I mention the old days for two reasons.
One is because of the pride all of us take -- and the great opportunities all of us see -- in AOL's Patch.com becoming part of the Huffington Post Media Group. Patch is an extraordinarily ambitious effort to produce local news -- granular, ground-level local news -- on a massive scale using reporter/editors and the latest in digital and social technology.
As of today there are some 800 Patches in 18 states and DC, with plans to open two or three times that many more within two years, each staffed with a full-time journalist.
Combined with other resources of the Huffington Post Media Group, we can offer readers news from across the globe and around the corner at the same time, and connect one to the other. Indeed the distinction between the two is fading very fast. Think Fukushima, a local-global-local story if there ever was one: An earthquake on the northern coast of Japan means, among other things, that the car dealer in your town might not have inventory to sell.
The other reason I mention the old days is to respond to a smattering of criticism we've gotten over the announcement that Patch.com is opening two new sites in Newark, N.J. We said that we were doing so "in partnership with Cory Booker," the city's energetic, charismatic and nationally prominent mayor.
Newark is a proud but beleaguered city, and its significance is both local and global.
But what does "partnership" mean? Nothing more or less than what it meant to the guys on the board of the MSD. We knew that we each had a role to play in Louisville, and that the role of the paper was to ask the right questions and report the answers.
It'll be the same in the case of the Patches in Newark and officials of the city, including the mayor. Patch does its best to hire committed local editor/reporters who are from the area or the state, and who, even if they are not natives, dedicate themselves to becoming part of the community. They are professionals who, among their other duties, know how to ask the right questions.
Booker knows his city, and so we asked him -- among others -- for advice on which neighborhoods might be best served by a hyper-local, web-based news source. When we announced the commitment, he naturally enough -- being a proud mayor -- celebrated the arrival of a new company and a new player in town. We did the same.
We will remain partners -- in the sense that now the Huffington Post Patches have a stake in serving the people of Newark. Where we can work together to make life better in a troubled city, we will do so -- openly and up front. But the best way for us to be a partner is to do our job, and part of that will be to report on whether Booker does his.