Will AOL's 'Patch' Kill Your Local Newspaper?

500 journalists get hired to power hyper-local news

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Local newspapers and alt-weeklies, once considered lucrative for their relative monopolies on arts coverage and classified listings, have found themselves assaulted by a variety of hyper-local online start-ups, citizen bloggers, and media giants hiring cheap freelancers. AOL, which is in the midst of transitioning to an ad-supported business model, is vying to dominate the hyper-local market with an experimental network of Patch websites. Given the company's plan to hire 500 journalists for the rapidly expanding division, it's a fair question to ask whether or not local, mostly print-only, newspapers will go virtually extinct. Journalists weigh in on AOL's local-news strategy:

  • Where's Its Business Plan? wonders Catharine P. Taylor at CBS's BNet. "While it's plenty noble to spend a reported $50 million to reinvigorate the local news business and hire 500 journalists in the process, one has to wonder what business plan Aol has to make Patch a profitable venture." Taylor looks at a case study of Patch versus her local papers in New Caanan, Connecticut and finds that "Patch has a clear benefit in one area: costs. Unlike the other two, it has no paper product, and it relies on a hard-working, low-paid editor -- buoyed by a few freelancers -- to keep itself up and running."
  • 500 Journalists Sounds Like a Lot until you remember that they are hiring "one journalist per community, communities that range in size from 10,000 to 80,000 people," notes Ken Doctor at Seeking Alpha. It appears that large "news" organizations are all heading this direction, with the result being that "the neighborhood florist will have to wear a flak jacket, just to ward off the dozen 'hyperlocal' sales guys and gals, all rediscovering the joys of local -- at the same time." The biggest winner in this competition may be the local aggregators, who could thrive off of all the free content and attract regional advertisers.
  • Don't Expect to Find Lots of Bustling Newsrooms after the news of Patch's expansion, observes USA Today's David Lieberman: "Based on the company's current help wanted ads, it seems that most Patch reporters cover Town Hall, fires, the police blotter, high school sports, community theater and other local developments from home." The writer also notes that the company would become the "the largest hirer of full-time journalists in the U.S. this year."
  • Patch Websites Are Like Gremlins: They Keep On Multiplying jokes Joe Pompeo at Business Insider. And all this growth comes "despite the fact that some of their employees are kind of pissed about working conditions, and that there's still no concrete evidence of how well Patch is doing in the traffic, ads, or becoming-profitable departments." At the very least there will be "lots more community news hubs; lots more media jobs to offer. But will people keep wanting to take those jobs? (Probably.)"
  • It Costs 1/25th the Amount to Run a Patch Site as Opposed to an Average Daily Newspaper reports Joseph Tartakoff at The Guardian. "Patch is selecting towns to expand to based in part on a 59-variable algorithm that takes into account factors like the average household income of a town, how often citizens vote, and how the local public high school ranks," he writes. Once in town, Patch will vigorously target local businesses by courting them to "buy banner ads and also letting them set up their own business listings, which they can convert into ads."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.