Huffington Explains AOL’s Odd Partnership With Newark Mayor

Has the hard-nosed Arianna Huffington found a soft spot for politicos?
 
Buried in AOL’s five-page press release Monday about its adding Biz Stone as an adviser and hiring 11 new journalists, among other moves, was the news that Patch.com would expand in Newark, N.J., in partnership with the city’s mayor, Cory Booker.
 
Huh? AOL didn’t go into detail, but the idea of a news organization partnering with politicians it’s supposed to cover is bizarre, to say the least. But maybe not so strange, considering Huffington—the new head of AOL’s Huffington Post Media Group—is a longtime supporter and pal of Booker. (The two once were even reported to be an item, although they deny it.)
 
Huffington told Adweek that the partnership merely entails Booker’s office giving Patch information about local services for the site to promote. “Mayor Booker’s role is as a resource to us as we launch the Patch networks, not to have any editorial input,” she said. “The partnership is to accelerate the launch by working with the mayor and his team in the community. They’re providing information. Every Patch digitizes information about government and school services so we can make them more available.”
 
Similarly, Anne Torres, Booker’s acting communications director, e-mailed to say, “The Mayor’s Office is simply supportive of the endeavor to bring patch.com to Newark. The Mayor’s Office is not providing any financial resources or staff to this endeavor.”
 
Huffington is looking at extending Patch to other struggling communities. A New Orleans site is already in the works. “We’re talking to Mary Matalin,” she said, referring to the Republican political strategist, who recently moved to the Big Easy with husband James Carville.
 
Huffington insisted that Patch would still be able to publish critical coverage of Newark’s mayor. That, of course, would require Patch going out on a limb, given her longstanding ties with Booker. “Cory and I have just been really good friends for 10 years. I’ve written about him, and I’m a big admirer of him,” she gushed. “He’s a game changer.”
 
Hearing something like that from a traditional media organization exec would raise eyebrows. But Patch seems to have a different game plan. Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds points out that like other hyperlocal sites, Patch tends to keep its editorial coverage upbeat and focus on community goings on. “They’re not in there with exposés,” he said. In fact, it’s not the first time Patch has worked with local government. In Ardmore, Penn., for example, Patch sponsored free parking last year.
 
So, in terms of AOL’s partnership with Newark, Edmonds said, “Yes, it could make it more difficult to do tough-minded coverage of the mayor’s office, but if you weren’t going to do tough-minded coverage of the mayor’s office, it’s not going to make a difference.”