Patches

Tim Armstrong says he will close, sell, or find partners for 300 local Patch sites to reach profitability.

I have a fourth option, Tim: Invest. Set up independent entrepreneurs — your employees, my entrepreneurial graduates, unemployed newspaper folks — to take over the sites. Offer them the benefit of continued network ad sales — that’s enlightened self-interest for Patch and Aol. Offer them training. Offer them technology. And even offer them some startup capital.

You could end up better off than you ever were by being a member of an ecosystem instead of trying to own it. It can grow faster — just look at how Glam became gigantic: by supporting a network.

I still believe in hyperlocal. You’ve always believed in hyperlocal. I don’t want to see retrenchment of Patch give the naysayers as chance to nya-nya us.

So please consider another path: shrink the company but grow the network.

  • http://skypejournal.com Phil Wolff

    Turning Patch into a hyperlocal news incubator?

  • http://www.timwindsor.com timwindsor

    When I would interview local and regional editors for Patch, I described the job as entrepreneurship with a salary and benefits. The people who approached it from that angle — versus the traditional media escapees who tried to bend Patch to their way of thinking — thrived and, not surprisingly, wound up in Armstrong’s top 30% tier.

    The real problem that Patch faces now is that, aside from its national sales team, it doesn’t really have anything other than human capital. The platform remains a technological throwback and the information-gathering and reporting tools that local editors get from Patch are no better than what they could assemble themselves with a trip to the Apple Store and an install of WordPress.

    So what’s left for the network to do? The brand, of course, has value once it becomes ubiquitous (900 towns, spread around a few score metro areas is not ubiquitous). And it could be a great teacher of small-j journalism in communities around the country where interested and involved citizens really will contribute valuable content if you show them how and give them ownership of their contributions.

    Can your fourth way work? There’s only one way to find out. But I’d suggest that, if this happens, that Patch learn from its own example and not try to do it everywhere, but pick one geographic cluster as a laboratory and work out the kinks before trying to scale it large.

    I still love Patch and what it wanted to do back in 2010. There’s no reason it can’t pivot and start acting entrepreneurial again.

    • Anna

      Tim, I appreciate your perspective, but, as a longtime local editor, let me remind you that the “top tier” is sites NOT individuals. (And, of course, this discussion is about lower-performing sites.) There is not necessarily a correlation between an editor’s enterprise and work ethic and success by numbers. That has a lot to do with local competition; regional demographics; and general population.

  • Joerengton

    You keep forgetting the problem Jeff: people don’t want to read crap written by harried amateurs

    • scryberwitch

      If you want quality, professional-level content, you have to *hire* professionals. As in, people who 1. have the skills and experience to do the job, and 2. have the time to do the job – not someone squeezing it in between a day job and family life.
      Until *all* content providers – online and print – get this, we the consumers are left with sub-par crap that we won’t even read for free, let alone pay for.

      • katrina

        You insinuate that the people who work for Patch are not pros. Many of us–LEs and AREs– have years of experience and took the job at Patch because we believed in its potential to reinvent journalism. The content varies from site to site, but there are many excellent sites where the editors are writing about issues relevant to their communities. Please don’t paint all 800+ sites with a broad brush. Jeff raises an interesting idea, but I wonder who would sell the ads and how the profit sharing would work. But as someone who has taken Jeff’s class and who believes in constantly seeking new ways of creating and monetizing quality journalism, I’m willing to explore the idea.

  • Joerengton

    By the way Jeff, is it too late to include you in this? http://localpeoplearmscrossed.tumblr.com/

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  • dylansmith

    AOL’s Patch is 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://www.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. The troubles of large-scale attempts at covering local news are only relevant to LION Publishers in that they show the contrast between the operations of local businesses and chains.

    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.

    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.

    Those Patch editors who are about to be laid off should take the weekend to enjoy some much-deserved time with their families, and then get in touch with a LION Publisher on Monday morning. 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.

  • GoBirdGo

    Jeff – Glam became gigantic from an entrepreneurial start and supported/built a network. For a behemoth like AOL, I imagine it would be impossible. It will be up to the Glams and my company Macaroni Kid and others to create entrepreneurs and one day surpass AOL.

  • Debbie Galant

    The fact that this came the same week as the Bezos-Washington Post deal should signify that the problem is not the local news business, it’s the news business. It’s expensive to have human beings cover stories, and technology companies are beating media companies at innovation and ad sales. But hyperlocal is still viable as a mom-and-pop business. It works well that way. No corporate overhead, and strong community relationships. In NJ, we’re seeding more hyperlocals and happy to help convert downsized Patchers into entrepreneurs

    http://njnewscommons.org/grow-and-strengthen-micro-grants-from-nj-news-commons/

  • Aussiewebmaster

    Patch should strive to become the online local newspaper for every town in the United States and any other country that cares to takes its help in organizing their methods.

    Patch should be looked at from bottom up. Each town has an editor – the person who, in effect, runs that town’s newspaper and is a revenue sharing partner of Patch.

    Numbers should start with a baseline CPM that generates enough for a monthly draw of $1,000. Given the nature of the traffic a $20 CPM is easily attainable which equates to 100,000 pageviews as a starting circulation number. Numbers and amount of the draw can be adjusted up or down.

    Now above them is a county or some number of local regions desk editor – he reads all copy prior to publishing and flags or edits as needed. In areas with potential high numbers, other assistants can be used.

    Above this are the state level publishers and from there national.

    The editions can run local as well as state and national coverage of associated news sources.

    The local regional editors can have mail set up for all location associated press releases and regular school and local government and charity events etc. The info is passed downline to the local editors and they can attend or contact the people involved directly. Local stringers can be used when the local information is not sent before and/or after the events.

    The local papers then sell advertising space to local businesses for a flat rate monthly initially and as circulation grows other ad sales offers may be used. Local business reviews can be written, local interest stories and local op-ed and other editorial with the company having the final decision on publishing.

    A stylebook and a methodology book should be written and the steps built in to the edition publishing software. A story is entered and then has to be seen and approved by a series of people depending on how it is categorized in the upflow chain.

    For local edition ad sales, any ad revenue brought in by the local editor the split is 60-40 their way, any additional ad space sold by the company has a 40-60 split based on incentivized reader numbers.

    Local editors should be from the community or live within a reasonable commute. They become the Patch representative in that neighborhood initially, as the grassroots base grows others may be employed to interact with the public on behalf of Patch as well.

    The papers can sit on a set template with tabs that feed state and national stories as well – increasing pageviews of AOL’s other properties and putting the company in a position to become highly competitive in a number of publishing – in all its possible formats – spaces with ties in to social, mobile and potentially local community broadcast tv or other platforms.

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