Patchy

Friday, August 16, 2013

Transcript

Patch, AOL's hyper-local reporting site, has announced it is cutting its staff of 1,100 nearly in half. Brooke talks with the Wall Street Journal's Keach Hagey about what this means for local reporting and about AOL CEO Tim Armstrong's snap firing of an employee during a Patch-wide conference call.

 

Guests:

Keach Hagey

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone

Comments [5]

Matt Owens from Fairfax, VA

I "worked" for Patch briefly when they were starting. My "boss" was a journalism major just out of college from the Midwest, moved to DC for this job, while friend from DC (who he met in school as I recall) had also got a job but was moved to the Midwest... So local journalism covered by non-locals. The pay was slave-wages. I was a "freelance" operator and made about $40 for 10-20 hours of work. My "boss," the head of the local Patch, didn't even have a physical office, but was expected to use his own car and transport and other means to run the site. I was skeptical from the start, and started to sense from online comments that this was nothing more than an effort to put something that could be claimed to have an asset value on the balance sheet of AOL. I mean, news stories about a local yard sale..really?

Aug. 18 2013 03:49 PM
Charlotte-Anne Lucas from San Antonio, Texas

Paywalls don't work today with local online news and they didn't work the first time newspapers tried it back in the 1990s. I know that from first-hand experience in San Antonio, and much has been written about it, on an industry-wide basis, both then and now.

The assertion that advertising cannot sustain a local news operation is baseless and simply not true. For example, in 2005, MySanAntonio.com, became profitable on a stand-alone basis. Again, I know that first-hand.

Many of my colleagues in the Local Independent Online News Publishers (http://lionpublishers.com) are continuing to show that advertising is a sustainable path for local online news.

Today, I run a nonprofit news organization, NOWCastSA.com, and it is living breathing proof that another path to sustainability is through underwriting, sponsorships, donations and grants. This is not unlike the way local public radio and television have thrived.

As financial reporters well know, AOL has made many expensive bets that failed because the company got into the wrong business, or mismanaged the project. That is why, when AOL shut down Bebo, closed Xdrive and stopped charging for email, no one declared an end to the social network business, online storage business or email business.

It makes me sad as a journalist that this report did not show adequate respect for facts and history to include them.

Aug. 17 2013 02:54 PM
Susan Leathers from Brentwood, TN

In the past four years, my business partner and I have grown our local web-based news company to three sites, 10 employees, an office and the strongest independent, credible and essential news source in our county -- the most educated and affluent in Tennessee. Why our success? Because we live here. We go to church here, our kids went to school here. We're at the chamber meeting and support United Way. We do investigative pieces as well as church suppers. High school football coverage (and the related advertising it brings) pays the fall bills. Please don't compare us to Patch -- or let the downfall of Patch -- define those of use who are putting down roots in this Wild West world that is local, digital news coverage.
Susan Leathers, co-owner and editor; LION member
BrentWord Communications LLC
BrentwoodHomePage.com, Franklinhomepage.com, Nolensvillehomepage.com

Aug. 17 2013 02:23 PM
Dylan Smith

AOL's Patch and its ilk are failing not because local news isn't a solid business, but because they're not local.

The local news industry is strong, healthy and growing — the real *local* segment of the industry. The hundred-plus members of Local Independent Online News Publishers (http://lionpublishers.com) and our many colleagues running local news websites are demonstrating that every day.

Local doesn't scale. We've seen it again and again; giant chains trying to templatize the production of news. That's not a tactic that worked in print for Gannett and others, and it certainly won't work online.

Networked plays such as Patch fail precisely because they are *not* local. They seek to profit from communities, rather than being invested in them. Centralized planning leads to success in journalism just as effectively as it worked for Soviet agriculture.

The national networked plays haven't, but many locally run news outlets are finding success – because their readers and sponsors value their community connections. Local news sites can connect local small business owners with the engaged local readers who are their customer base — and do so effectively and affordably. The failure of Patch doesn't point to the necessity of paywalls, but to the need for local news to return to its authentic roots.

We regularly see LION members announcing that their readership and revenues are reaching new heights, that they're hiring new staffers and deepening their coverage.

Local news is successful when it truly *is* local — historically, when newspapers and radio stations were owned by families or local partnerships, they served their communities more effectively. Chains broke that model, focusing more on quarterly reports, stock prices and executive salaries than long-term investments. Local news organizations must be *of* their communities, not just *in* them to ship profits out of town. Local news must respect readers: know what they want to know, know what they need to know, and provide it quickly, accurately and comprehensively. Cookie-cutter editorial priorities mandated on a national level are the complete opposite of that.

The withering of Patch isn't the end of local news online. Rather, it's a chance for talented, motivated enterpreneurs to tend their own gardens.

Those Patch editors who are being laid off should take a few days to enjoy some much-deserved time with their families, and then get in touch with a member of LION Publishers. If you've got the drive to be an entrepreneur, we've got a network of independent publishers who are ready and willing to help you establish a news outlet that is focused on your community.

Dylan Smith

Chairman, Local Independent Online News Publishers
Editor & Publishers, TucsonSentinel.com

Aug. 17 2013 11:52 AM
Howard Owens from batavia, ny

There's a lot more money to be made in local advertising -- when you have the right product to sell -- than there is in pay walls, and pay walls diminish the chance at maximizing that revenue. The reason small newspapers are failing online with audience and revenue is poor execution, not lack of opportunity.

Aug. 17 2013 09:43 AM

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