What happens when an austerity governor and possible GOP presidential hopeful takes a state helicopter to his son's high school baseball game? Well, probably nothing ... unless somebody reports it. But if somebody does happen to, say, take a photo of the good governor de-coptering mid-ballfield and posts it as part of a , there's a better-than-even chance that photo will blow up into a media storm.
Putting aside for a second the question of whether media storms in general are a good thing, the Chris Christie Goes a 'Coptering story referenced above was certainly an interesting moment for us here at Patch, because we were the ones who broke it. Patch photographer Christopher Costa of Morristown Patch, following a tip run down by Patch Regional Editor Tom Troncone, is the one who caught the New Jersey gov in helicopter flagrante, and we ran it with an inquiring piece on a few of our Patches around Montvale, where it happened.
What ensued was, as Twitter dubbed it, #Coptergate. The photo and the incident were picked up by dozens of media outlets, from local blogs to national news programs. Diane Sawyer? Check. Lou Dobbs? Check. Wolf Blitzer? Check. Times, WSJ, MSNBC (three different shows), Village Voice and Cafe Mom? Yup.
It was "the photo everyone is talking about" (as one local newscaster put it) in the tri-state area -- at least until Weinergate gained steam. (Headline: "Christie's Chopper Can't Measure Up to Weiner's Wiener"?). And as a result we enjoyed tens of thousands of additional visitors.
While many, many commenters on blogs and on Twitter took Christie to task for his choice of transportation, it's not for us at Patch to say whether he was right or wrong -- and we didn't. As an unbiased news organization, we merely reported the facts. That's not to say we're so coolly detached that we didn't realize, or point out, the issues at hand. It's a fair question as to whether this is an appropriate use of taxpayer-funded state assets, and in fact it's our responsibility to raise that question so the affected community may debate it.
Which brings me to another timely point. We've been criticized here and there for, in short, not really being local. The charge is that because Patch is owned by AOL, and because AOL is a big corporation, Patch is somehow a bad thing for small communities -- despite the fact we hire full-time editors who live and work in the markets they cover. That is not an argument we think is worth having, because the bottom line is, it's not for us to say.
Like the Christie Copter issue, it's a fair question to ask. But whether we're good or bad for communities is a question that other media outlets can't really answer, and shouldn't even be trying to -- the community members themselves should. And if we're doing our job -- providing the most relevant news and information to local residents -- it's hard to see how we'd get a thumbs down.
In the particular case of Christie, if Patch hadn't been there, a in the outfield and nobody hears it. Again, argue as you will about whether it's a big deal or not, but it's not even a possible debate without Patch reporters there to raise it.
As the editor-in-chief, I'm proud of the service we provided, which in this case went far beyond our local audience. As it turned out, the state $3,300 for the use of the helicopter. For Patch, that's a good day at the ballpark, if you ask me.
Speaking of which, for the record, Delbarton beat St. Joe's 7 to 2. And in the hyperlocally focused world of Patch, that news is as important to report as any gubernatorial air show.
Brian Farnham is editor in chief of Patch.