As you heard on today's All-Company call, after four years as Editor-in-Chief of Patch, I'm moving on. My last day is May 4. I'm leaving for an assortment of reasons, but I'm glad to be able to say that none of them is negative. I love Patch, and I plan on staying very connected as an active alum, most specifically as a member of the advisory board we're continuing to build. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful that I can maintain this connection, and I'll be there anytime Patch calls on me.
Taking leave of Patch ain't easy, but let me try to boil down why I'm doing so: it turns out I really love creating things from scratch, and while Patch is in a continual process of truly fascinating evolution and only a toddler of a company, it has definitely left "scratch" in the dust. So I'm heading off to explore some other startup opportunities. But not before I take a good, long nap.
Patch has never just been a job for me. It's been a very personal experience. Jon Brod, who co-founded Patch and brought me on (as employee #4!), has been a close friend since college, twenty years ago. I turned 40 while at Patch. My two children were born while I was here. (In fact, I had to hastily leave a meeting to attend my son David's birth.) I didn't make this decision lightly, and I wouldn't be able to pull the trigger if I didn't feel Patch were in good shape and in great hands. One of several bittersweet feelings I'm having right now is the fact that Patch is enjoying such palpable momentum as a business. We've always joked that Patch is a bus we're building while it runs at top speed -- well, it feels like we've stopped wobbling and fishtailing from the fast start and now we're cruising.
There's still a lot of work left to do, of course, but I have to say I love how that work is getting organized and knocked out - especially on the revenue side. Mark Josephson and his team are killing it right now. And on the content side, same thing. I've only worked with Rachel Feddersen for about six weeks now but I have loved the ideas and focus she has brought to Patch. I've already learned a ton from her, and I'm sad to have to give up that partnership. She and I are touring around Patchland as I write this, and we're having a blast.
Allow me this indulgence of a paragraph: I've never worked for a company that has been as scrutinized, criticized, and coal-raked as this one. As Jon likes to say, you'd think we were creating toxic waste, instead of, you know, free useful information. We have critics on Wall Street, critics in the media, local critics, national critics, the business press, the journalism reviews, bloggers, etc. There are so many that I've come to think of them as a single large, screechy, off-key band called BI and the Haters. It's music to kill yourself by.
The good news about that? I think it's safe to say that we wouldn't be constantly deboned by all these critics if we weren't doing something really interesting and potentially threatening. People associated with, dependent on, or invested in existing systems don't like bold new attempts to re-imagine those systems. That's just the reality of a business like ours.
But if you ever find these noisome types getting you down and you want to escape it, just turn toward the community you work in. Because our users don't sing this tune. They just get us. They may sometimes chide us for certain ways we've executed things (or not executed them), but has any user ever complained to you that they don't understand why we exist? There's a reason we get thousands of emails from users about how we've improved their lives. We're trying to make communities better, stronger. If you're on the receiving end of that mission, what the hell is there to complain about?!
We have a lot to be proud of. We have accomplished some amazing things together. Historical things. Seriously -- no matter what happens from here on, any future history book about journalism or online media has to discuss Patch. How many more companies are you going to work for in your career where that will be true?
Here's what I'm most proud of: the people we've hired. We're staffed with some truly inspiring talent, on all sides of the business. Especially among you editors, whose work I obviously know best. I'm not bullshitting when I say I've learned from you every day. The job we gave you is hard. You have to be a certain kind of fearless to take it on. You don't just have to accept that the job will never be easy; you actually have to like that about it. And you have to be passionate. And man, you are.
And the editors I've gotten to know who fit this bill are just kickass people, on top of being pros. If I may offer some advice to you as an editorial team on my way out the door: if you're still inclined to think of yourself as a journalist, stop -- you're selling yourself short. This job gives you the opportunity to practice journalism while being something much greater. And if you're too concerned with living up to some rarefied notion of what a capital-J Journalist should be, you won't explore what else you can do with your position in your community.
I know it may seem like you're constantly being asked from on high to do this and that requirement or hit this or that goal, but in reality very little is actually prescribed about your role. Having created the job out of whole cloth, we have always looked to you to show us what can be made of it. So don't just write. Don't just report. Get into your communities. Figure out what being in the driver's seat of this remarkable local platform can really let you do.
There are a ton of people I need to thank. Tim Armstrong is #1 on that list. Patch is his vision, and I've never worked for a leader with more energy and bravery to push the ideas he's passionate about. I have to thank Jon Brod for trusting me to help create this company from nothing four years ago. I have to thank Warren Webster, who bleeds green and has been a calm, essential leader for Patch since the beginning.
If I name anyone else, I run the risk of leaving out someone just as deserving -- Patch has an extraordinary team of leaders and I love that I consider so many of them friends beyond our working relationship. I will miss being in the foxhole with you guys.
I do want to single out the Editorial Directors here -- Marcia, Sherry, Tim and ADC. You four were my rocks. You each bring something unique to the table and lead your teams in your own way, but it's the fierce caring you all exhibit that I've valued most. Couldn't have done anything we've done without you. Not even close.
Most of all I'm grateful to each and every editor at Patch. Being able to say I led a team of hundreds of wickedly smart, dedicated editors is an honor that will be tough to top in my career going forward. Thank you, and keep up the amazing work. I'll be watching.
A final note: This thing we've been trying to build here can't be fueled by timidity or complacency. Those of us who were here in the beginning followed Tim's lead and tried to be fast and bold. That's still very much needed. So, to be blunt, don't be afraid to fuck up. We weren't.
In the next couple of weeks I'm going to get out into the field as much as possible to say face-to-face goodbyes. For those I don't get to see, thank you, good luck and let's stay in touch. It has truly been an honor.
For instance, across our 850+ sites, we publish a new piece of original content every 12 seconds. That stat persistently wows me, because it speaks to the work our nearly 1,000 editors put in every day. (It also always reminds me of an old Saturday Night Live "news report" about how a man is mugged every 11 seconds in New York. Cut to street reporter standing with hapless interviewee: "And here is that man.")
But we recently encountered a big number. One million. As in, Patch has now produced one million articles. That adds up to over 382 million words. All that in just 30 months, and with over 600 of our sites having launched in the last eight months. (Another number we love? 391. That's how many articles we've published about lost pets - and in many cases, we've heard that our stories helped reunite those pets with their owners. Woof.)
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, 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 helicopter lands 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, Gov. Christie ended up reimbursing the state about $2150 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.
Whenever one of our editors launches a Patch (a ritual we've repeated some 800 times), they start hearing from residents of their community. Most are enthusiastic about this new online source of news and information dedicated to their little slice of the American pie. But a few are skeptical, and the skeptics often say something to the editor along the lines of, "Well, I just hope you're not a blog."
It was probably inevitable that "blog" would become a four-letter word. Anything that is released upon the world at the rate of 50,000 per day -- other than free Lady Gaga tickets -- is liable to get a bad name. In fact, the only thing that might have a worse name online these days is the word "aggregation."So of course we're incredibly proud to announce that today on all our Patches, in addition to the professionally produced objective journalism on which we built our brand, you can now find both blogs and aggregation!
The Patch that did the honors was Buckhead Patch in Georgia, expertly guided into site-hood by editor Louis Mayeux, with Hope Barrett at the helm on the Directory side.
This milestone is yet another answer to the question of what the "plus" means in our stated goal of reaching "500 plus sites in 2010." Right now plus equals 100 sites, but watch this space -- there's plenty of days left this year.
Santa's workshop ain't got nothing on us.
The watchful eye of CBS News fell on Patch last night, in the form of a short examination of our growth and impact on the news biz. One of our Local Editors, Chris Vaccaro (Sachem Patch), represented the home team admirably.
It's quick viewing (bit over 2 mins), and if you look closely you can see the back of my head -- which is a hell of a lot better than the hair on my chest.
Charlene Li likes to tell the story of how Barry Judge, the CMO of Best Buy, launched his official blog. His first post was all of ten words: "Here it is – the first post. Whew glad that's over.."
Li uses the anecdote to reinforce one of her core beliefs, which is that people -- and more specifically, people at companies -- should blog, and they shouldn't overthink how to get started or what to say. Not because the world needs more blogs about just anything, but because companies need to talk about themselves in an honest way. Especially if you're an Internet company.
This is the first post of the official Patch blog, and we're going to go a bit beyond ten words -- but not by much. I think we'll try to live by the Judge-ian example of keeping it short and getting to the point...