Collingswood’s Bad News Travels Fast and Far

Mr. Mayor, Paris is on line one.

I always thought “no news is good news” meant that, for instance, if your loved one is traveling and he doesn’t call, it’s good news, because hospitals and police offices would call you if something were wrong. But calling is no longer how we communicate: When people were able to Facebook message rather than call (Internet up, cell towers down) after the tsunami, or when someone I know was in jail (!) and had to Facebook message people to get help, I realized we might need to modernize the phrase.

And maybe the real truth is, “good news is not news.”

Back in September, Moody’s investor services lowered Collingswood’s bond rating by six notches and put it on a “watch list.” I did a rare “woman-on-the-street” kind of post about the issue, and was hard pressed to find a Collingswood resident who was upset about it. Yet national media—from HuffPo to the L.A. Times—ran coverage, as did the Inquirer and the Courier-Post.

Nine months (“246 days, not that I’m counting,” says Collingswood mayor, Jim Maley) later, Collingswood’s credit rating has been restored. Maley says the borough changed none of their plans, just kept on keeping on, and got the town to just where they said they would.

Great news for Collingswood, but did you hear about it? Probably not. Maley had to contact both the Courier-Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer himself, and practically demand the coverage. “The Courier-Post used the same font size for our negative Moody rating as they did for the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I asked them for front page and above the fold and got the front page, but below the fold. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran it as the cover of the South Jersey section, which means no one in Philadelphia saw it,” the mayor said. “It’s like this, people will slow down to look at a car accident, but they’re not going to slow down to look at a pretty baby.”

Collingswood got even more press during what I like to call the “Michael Landon Plaque Kerfuffle.” “Kerfuffle” seems the best word in this case because even though it means a commotion, it simply sounds silly, and that’s exactly what the Michael Landon Plaque Kerfuffle is.

Rumors still abound, but this is the most believed version of events: A Collingswood curmudgeon brought the plaque to the town paper saying he found it in the town dump. There are nonsensical holes in that version already, I know. Who wanders around the dump? Why would the resident bring it to the newspaper rather than a borough official? The curmudgeon later, and quickly, changed that story.

Anyway, the point here is the uproar that the plaque dislocation caused. Maley and other borough officials were inundated with media requests. Says Maley, “Paris called.”

The real story is boring: The town removed the plaque due to its being a safety hazard during preparation for the renovation of the area where it was. But this did not stop television crews, online and print media, and international attention.

Really, I intend to offend no one, and I promise you, Michael Landon was probably one of my first celebrity crushes (and boy, did it feel inappropriate—he was Laura and Mary’s dad for goodness sake), but all of this ruckus over a plaque in a tiny park in a tiny town? Paris called?

Maybe we need another adage: Silly news is big news.