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
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
- 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."
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.
- 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."
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