By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Patching in to AOL’s Patch

AOL’s local-news initiative, Patch, has been ramping up in Massachusetts in recent months. The effort deserves a full post, so consider this a placeholder. Universal Hub has been all over Patch, chronicling the departure of several GateHouse Media employees who’ve signed on as Patch editors.

My tendency is not to get too excited when a national corporation with no roots in journalism decides to take on hyperlocal news. There have simply been too many instances of the suits deciding that journalism isn’t as lucrative as they had hoped and then pulling the plug a year or two down the line.

Based on Arlington Patch, the sites seem attractive and easy to navigate, with a strong emphasis on community participation. But I don’t know that I see anything that would make me choose it over GateHouse’s Wicked Local Arlington site, or’s Your Town page for Arlington.

Besides, I think online local news works best when it grows from the ground up. Local blogs vary wildly in quality. But I’d rather check in on Bob Sprague’s Your Arlington blog than to spend my time with the progeny of Steve Case.

That said, it’s early. Maybe Patch will represent some sort of breakthrough. We’ll see.

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  1. Steve Stein

    I don’t know how the news end of it is, but it looks like a good place to post announcements.

    Do the Wicked Local sites allow this?

    Is user-generated content screened before it hits the Patch sites? (If not, it would seem ripe for mischief.)

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Steve: Adding events is simple at Wicked Local and Your Town. I assume they’re screened at Your Town, because when I’ve submitted Boy Scout listings to Globe North I’ve had to wait for them to be approved. No doubt it’s the same platform. Not sure about Wicked Local, though I see you have to register. I just e-mail press releases to the editor of our local GateHouse paper, so I haven’t tried it.

  2. Dan Hamilton

    AOL is kind of the GM of the online information world.

    While it’s not fair to automatically assume in advance that they will botch this, their long track record of arrogant, clueless initiatives that ignored the changing reality of the online universe certainly suggests they are likely to fail.


    • Dan Kennedy

      @Dan Hamilton: I think you’ve put your finger on it. No matter how good Patch might become, it’s not likely to be a highly profitable business. Meanwhile, what is AOL today? Who knows? It’s no longer part of Time Warner. From what I’ve read, it seems that they’ve made a bet-the-farm move into content, and that if it doesn’t work out, that could be the end of the company.

  3. BP Myers

    @Dan said: There have simply been too many instances of the suits deciding that journalism isn’t as lucrative as they had hoped and then pulling the plug a year or two down the line.

    Sidewalk.Com, anyone?

    Just for fun (and with some trepidation) I typed the URL and went for a visit. Looks like somebody ultimately bought it for twenty bucks or so.

    One of the first of Microsoft’s giant steps toward irrelevance.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @BP: Or Backfence.

      The sites that have been most successful have been grassroots efforts by people in the community, whether they be non-profit (New Haven Independent) or for-profit (the Batavian, Baristanet). There are many small examples, too.

  4. My first foray into hyperlocal media was through community radio. It was the station that duct-tape and mostly consumer-gear built, and it worked. It sounded on air, almost as good as commercial (and..ermm licensed) stations. It proved that with regulations out of the way, the playing field could be leveled.

    And that’s what’s happening online today. It’s somewhat amusing that only after grassroots efforts in online journalism have become successful, an outfit like AOL is hoping the playing field is leveled in their favor.

    They’ll have the money to make a big splash at launch, but will they have staying power?

    I recently attended a Chamber of Commerce event in Swampscott, a joint networking session between the Lynn Area and Marblehead chapters. There were two representatives from Patch there who seemed fresh out of college, trying to work the crowd. I was there for UPSIDEMEDIA, through which I run on no budget, no revenue (yet) and not enough available time. But, they didn’t feel threated, nor did I, as it seems AOL has no interest in Lynn at this time. Their loss is my gain.

  5. Louisa Hufstader

    OK: I’ve been getting calls and emails from these folks, though I haven’t sent my resume to a news outfit in years. Their regional editor worked at our local daily for half the past decade and is familiar enough with my work in the area’s existing “hyperlocal” print, radio and TV media to understand that I know the community inside out and am a clean, quick and reliable reporter, writer and editor.
    So far so good, but (scary music) it’s AOL. Yet is that a real reason not to give this opportunity a shot, when their regional is so close at hand and tuned in? I’m all for grassroots efforts, too, but I really need a salary in order to keep doing the work I love. There’s not one broadcast news outlet left in the county, and a single newspaper company has a virtual lock on the print and web news media. Sure would be nice to give them even a tiny taste of competition by creating a Web site that truly serves the locals; but not as a volunteer, sorry.

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