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

Indies fight back against Patch

Thirty independent community news sites have banded together to tell the world, in effect, “We are not Patch.” The project, called Authentically Local, includes such well-known sites as Baristanet, based in Montclair, N.J., The Batavian, of Batavia, N.Y., and the New Haven Independent.

In a statement posted online, Baristanet founder and editor Debbie Galant says:

The Authentically Local campaign seeks to illuminate the difference between authentic local businesses and those that are just cashing in — before every town in America becomes one giant strip mall. This is not just about us, the owned-and-operated sites that write about place. It’s about place.

The alliance includes both for-profit and non-profit sites. Its motto, “local doesn’t scale,” appears to be aimed squarely at AOL’s sites, a network of hyperlocal sites that are a key part of AOL’s efforts to reinvent itself.

Recently Galant compared Patch to Wal-Mart, saying, “The profits are going to a corporation. And so it’s difficult. It makes us understand what the local merchants are dealing with on a regular basis, for different local hardware stores to be competing against Home Depot. It’s basically the same thing.”

Patch has emerged as a real hiring engine for journalists at a time when the news business continues to shrink. So I’d like to see both Patch and the independents thrive. To the extent that Patch poses a threat to the indies, I hope Authentically Local helps them compete on a level field.

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  1. BP Myers

    Not sure how I feel about this. Seems like many of the independants arose due to both a dearth of local coverage, as well as a readily available cadre of recently downsized journalists (oversimplifying, I know.) So if Patch also provides both local news as well as local jobs in journalism a) who cares where the profits go, and b) isn’t that all for the good? I mean, last I checked, The Boston Globe’s profits went to New York.

    Wonder if a better angle might have been if they focused on Patch’s lack of providing living wages or benefits to their employees and their psuedo-sweatshop nature, unless, of course, these “independants” are run similarly. Regardless, a rising tide lifts all boats, so I wish them all well. And in the end, the market will sort it all out.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @BP: Relatively speaking, Patch pays well. The rap on Patch is difficult working conditions, not pay levels.

  2. I was under the impression PATCH recently let a bunch of people go and was no longer paying for much of its content. But then again, I don’t remember the source of the info.

    BP: Dearth of local coverage in certain topics and the complete lack of a nightlife calendar is the reason I got into hyperlocal journalism. I’m not a journalist by training and I have a day job.

    Also, PATCH has entered just about every community surrounding Lynn, but I guess they’re just afraid of us.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Seth: Patch continues to hire. It is on a new campaign to bring in unpaid community bloggers, but as a supplement to the paid staff.

  3. Karen Klinger

    Actually, it’s unclear what Patch is doing re: hiring, according to an April 26 story in “Forbes” by Jeff Bercovici, which (referencing a report by Bloomberg) said, “The report quoted Huffington as saying ‘Each site will now have its own team.’ That was welcome news to existing Patch editors, who typically operate solo, and who have seen their freelance budgets cut this year.

    “But the jubilation was short-lived, as Patch editors were subsequently informed that Huffington’s comments should not be taken to mean that each site would be adding a second editor, merely that an as-yet unknown number of editors will be hired at some point.”

    In the meantime, the editors of the 800 Patch sites were told to each recruit five-to-10 unpaid bloggers, for a total of up to 8,000 (in the course of one week!), in what editor in chief Brian Farnham called a “full-on course correction.”

  4. Yeah, Seth, we thought that too — especially when they launched in Maplewood and South Orange and stayed away from Montclair for the first year and a half. But when they came, they came with a vengeance and an outsized desire to crush us. So don’t be too smug.

    Meanwhile, we’d be happy to have you in AuthenticallyLocal fold.

    Debbie Galant

  5. I am a regular contributor to several Patch sites. As all writers know, it’s become increasingly more frustrating to work with editors at other publications who have no time for the onslaught of queries that come their way. Competition is fierce, to say the least.

    I’m thankful to all the Patch editors who utilize my work.

  6. Debbie,

    I have the image on my site, now. Thanks!

    By the way, my sister lives in Montclair and I did a good portion of my public school years in Wayne, where my parents still live.

    If my comment seemed smug, it’s a kind of defensive reaction. While a city of 90,000 people under ten miles from Boston, Lynn is often bypassed, dismissed and cast off as a hopeless case by other people in Massachusetts who have rarely, if ever, put feet on the ground here –and so that’s what myself and others felt PATCH was doing.

    I live in a downtown that’s a a lot safer than it was fifteen years ago, only outside perception has not changed very much and people are still afraid to go here. Maybe it’s not unlike people being afraid to go to a bistro in Jersey City.

    There already is a budding music scene, an arts scene, and a very active community in our old downtown. We also have the ocean, 2300 acres of Lynn Woods with some of the best mountain biking in the North East, and other neighborhoods rich with character. But no matter how much is going on here, we keep hearing the refrain, “There’s nothing in Lynn,” and “Why would you want to live there?” That attitude is making things just that much more difficult. It’s more difficult to convince bands to play here. It’s more difficult to attract artists and galleries.

    I like to tell people we’re the NJ of Massachusetts, in that we have an image problem. We can learn a few things from how NJ has been, in my view, turning things around.

    I like what’s going on in Montclair. I’ve been to the Wellmont Theatre for a concert, the art museum, and I go out of my way to eat at Mesob.


  7. I was writing for my local paper for 3 years where I kept being told that I would be paid once I established a following. After one year I had established a substantisl following mostly by marketing my work on my own & directing readers to the local paper. Then I was told I would be paid once I brought in new advertisers. When I did this I was told that in liu of pay they would advertise my blog for free. This was an independent local that had been in publication for over 50 years & had a solid reputation in the 27 communities it served.

    I jumped on Patch’s offer to bring me on as a writer. They pay better than any of the Bergen County, NJ independent locals I either wrote for or spoke to. Patch also allows me to write a number of columns for my hometown and I’m able to collect a reliable weekly paycheck withhout having to prove myself in any way other than being an exceptional writer.

    Also, I was offered by many of the independent locals to “blog” for free in exchange for exposure–how does that make them any different from Huffington?

    All I know is that in the 7 months I have been writing for Patch I have been exceedingly happy and well paid.

    Ann Piccirillo

  8. L. Knox

    I love working for Patch. One interesting assignment after another, editors that are principled & appreciative, payments posted promptly through paypal. Many of the staffers have lived & worked in the area for many years. They are excited about community coverage.
    In contrast, a lot of the staff at area print operations are at this point the embittered “walking wounded” with staff cutbacks, involuntary sabbaticals & soaring workloads. JMHO.

  9. The issue of whether a large national corporation profits from providing online local news coverage is a red herring. For decades before online hyperlocal news coverage emerged, out-of-town ownership of the small local paper was not the exception but the rule. Fundamentally from a journalistic and economic perspective, there is little difference between small local newspapers being owned by large corporations (e.g. Gannett, which owned dozens of such papers but was not the only such outfit) and a local news website being owned by a large corporation (i.e. Patch/AOL).
    In the same respect the working conditions for Patch staff are nothing new under the sun. Anyone who ever worked an entry-level GA or beat reporting job at a weekly or small daily (say under 20K circ) knows that drill, and the same conditions applied whether ownership was by an independent owner or large corporation.

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