Will AOL’s Patch hyperlocal network drive out locally owned news sites here in the D.C. area and elsewhere?
I’ve got mixed feelings. I share Rutt’s concerns and also worry about the discrepancy between Patch salaries and those at many other news organizations. On the other hand, the more competitors, the better for readers. What’s more, I’d hate to see the Washington Post and TBD.com and similar organizations as the only sources of news, and Patch sites and smaller weeklies and dailies have a definite role to play.
Also of interest: How to Beat Patch, from Howard Owens, and Steve Buttry’s response, via MediaGazer. The first talks about beating AOL via a lower cost structure and not going after national ads, while the second plays up the possibilities of linking and other cooperation with competitors.
Related: J-Lab: What works for hyperlocal news sites in the Knight Blog, Among other things, Jan Schaffer concludes that the most successful sites offer news where non existed before—and I suspect that condition is true even in heavily populated areas, given the number of neighborhoods to cover. She also says that it may not pay to train citizen journalists because people are too busy to contribute. But I do see this as a goodwill builder and maybe even a partial replacement for the existing newspapers-in-schools programs. We’re talking about more than the immediate bottom line here, especially when you consider one of her best points—that “engagement, not just content, is key.” Also keep in mind that many reporting-related skills are transferrable to other areas of life such as business and government, where superior writing and analytical skills can provide a real edge; some people might even pay for instruction from pros (hello, Washington Post Kaplan division?). The full what-works report is here (PDF).
Very friendly suggestion for Tim Rutt: Spruce up the layout of altadenablog, and maybe pay more attention to the schools in and near Altadena. Otherwise I really like what you’re up to—with a mix of serious civic reporting, crime news and chatty neighborhood items.