A few more thoughts on Patch.com

My Thursday posting of an e-mail from a Patch.com local editor who considers herself overworked and underappreciated brought an unusually strong reaction from Media Nation readers — many of them, no doubt, people who work for Patch or who are thinking about it. I received nearly 4,400 page views on Thursday, well over double the usual amount of traffic.

I received several e-mails from current and former Patch folks, also insisting on anonymity, and wary about whether they wanted their words posted at all. I am not normally in the habit of publishing anonymous e-mails, and I’d just as soon Media Nation not turn into a forum for anonymous pro- and anti-Patch missives. But I can say that a few folks agreed with the anonymous e-mail and a few disputed it. One even asked that I pressure my source into giving up her identity so that other local editors will not be suspected. (Uh, no.)

What’s beyond dispute is that community journalism is hard work, and has never been particularly lucrative. In Greater Boston, what’s shaping up is a three-way battle involving Patch, GateHouse Media’s Wicked Local sites and the Boston Globe’s Your Town sites. Here’s what I’m hearing from folks who’ve been in touch with me:

  • Though no one is getting rich working for Patch, it offers better pay and benefits than its competitors. But that comes with an unusually heavy load of responsibilities, as outlined by my anonymous e-mailer. Local editors must manage every aspect of the site.
  • Many GateHouse journalists earn less than Patch editors. But though they also put in dauntingly long hours, editors and reporters don’t have as many non-journalistic responsibilities.
  • Correspondents for the Globe’s Your Town sites are freelancers, and receive no benefits at all.

I should note that nearly all Wicked Local content is repurposed from GateHouse’s newspapers, most of them weeklies. The Your Town sites combine online-only stories, an occasional Globe story and aggregation from other news sources (but not from Wicked Local). Patch is online-only.

I should also note that the Your Town/Wicked Local/Patch combination is far from the only game in community journalism. Medium-size dailies such as the Eagle-Tribune papers north of Boston, GateHouse’s own dailies west and south of Boston, and Rupert Murdoch’s (yes, believe it or not) Standard-Times of New Bedford and Cape Cod Times are among our most important sources of local news. Journalists at those papers tend to be more experienced and better paid, too.

There are two pieces of good news in all of this: there’s a lot of competition for local news in Greater Boston, and competition is good for readers; and, a year after the news business seemed to be collapsing, news outlets are hiring young reporters at a healthy clip in order to staff new hyperlocal sites.

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7 thoughts on “A few more thoughts on Patch.com

  1. Sean Roche

    In Newton, anyway, Gatehouse reporters are frequent contributors to the Wicked Local blog, both posting and commenting.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Sean: GateHouse’s online-only content is probably strongest in Newton, Somerville and Cambridge. (Am I leaving anyone out? If I am, I’m sure I’ll hear about it.) Up here in the Frozen North, there is very little reason to visit Wicked Local if you already subscribe to the print edition. As we do.

  2. Peter Sullivan

    I am a bit surprised that I haven’t heard more about this Patch.com. Actually I wasn’t even sure AOL was still around. It seems like they could benefit from a little more marketing/publicity and after taking a look at a few of the sites, definitely more advertising.

    One interesting fact about the Massachusetts sites; Publisher, Pat Purcell Jr.

  3. Greg Reibman

    Dan: While it is true that quite a bit of our Wicked Local content is repurposed from our print products it would be incorrect to say “nearly all.”

    Over time we have been implementing a content differentiation strategy which recognizes that our print and online readers often have different interests and needs.

    Given resources, its not always easy. And how newsy or active a community is makes a difference too.

    But it is our goal and our practice to approach what we do differently as often as possible.

    Of course, this extends beyond news and feature content, which can be different online and in print. For example, many of our reporters and editors contribute to staff blogs, Tweeting, making videos, etc. …all of which is never seen in print.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Greg: As I said, it depends on the community. Not much up our way. We’re just hoping our excellent editor, Cathryn O’Hare, who just left, will be replaced by another full-time, Danvers-only journalist.

  4. Michael Corcoran

    I worked at a small weekly that essentially covered one town for a couple of years. I found the work to be gratifying, in that there was plenty to cover and I was allowed by good editors to think big (as big as possible for a local paper with a small circulation), and was able to occasionally tie the town’s issues into bigger state-wide issues.

    But the pay was not very good (though we did get health benifits). I didn’t much blame my employers, because my small salary, which I agreed on, was in line with norms, but I do wish our society valued these roles more. A good journalist for a small paper (or web site) can play a tremendously important role, but many leave the business, because they just can’t really earn.

    I am not sure of the specifics of Patch, but generally speaking, it is unfortunate a small-town journalist can’t earn above 30 k a year. With those pay scales, we are asking for a lot of turnover and eliminating a lot of talent from the pool of potential applicants.

    Nichols and McChesney discuss this issue in their latest book about how to save the media, and they raise some interesting, if controversial points.

  5. J.K.Sylvanya

    The Patch idea of hyper-local is a good one. However, they need to be a bit more inclusive in their hiring practices. White Twenty-something only need apply. Apparently no one else can qualify for a local editor position at Patch. From what I’ve seen (editors photos appear at the top of each site)the local editors are overwhelmingly young and white. Will all communities be covered by Patch or only the ones the local editors feel comfortable in? Whether it lasts or not, this is good experience that should be open to everyone.

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