‘Patch, the WalMart of News?’ Scourge of locally owned news sites? Plus, what-works tips

image Will AOL’s Patch hyperlocal network drive out locally owned news sites here in the D.C. area and elsewhere?

Tibby Rothman—no relative–has written an L.A. Weekly piece quoting Timothy Rutt, a blogger in Altadena, California: “It’s a Walmart moving in and driving out the mom-and-pop businesses."

image 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.

image 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.

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David Rothman

4 thoughts on “‘Patch, the WalMart of News?’ Scourge of locally owned news sites? Plus, what-works tips

  1. Thanks, David. We always appreciate friendly suggestions. In fact, we’ve got a new layout underway that we’re not quite ready to roll out yet.

    I’m curious why you’d say we need to pay more attention to schools. In the visible page today, we have: a story about a joint concert with three area schools; an announcement of upcoming meetings of a school district consolidation committee that has three of our local schools on the chopping block; efforts to create a local, independent school district; and a county recreation program that largely serves the students in one local school. This is in addition to several stories about programs (library- or community-group based) that are aimed at school age children. Since school’s only been in session three weeks here, they haven’t had time to start the activity that leads to stories yet!

    But thank you for your kind compliments — what you mentioned, plus our pretty sterling coverage of local arts news, are the things we take pride in.

  2. Nice hearing from you, Tim, and keep up the great work with the Altadena blog.

    Know what we both forgot to mention? Your religion-related coverage, just what a reader might expect of someone with a personal interest in those matters. I myself am not religious, but know that too many news organizations give only the most cursory attention to the topic. Readers first! And in these turbulent times, I’m especially pleased to see the story about the interfaith performance.

    Another plus is that I know you’re a California paper, with mentions of the UFO sighting, the “ecosexual wedding” and so on. Just what you should be doing!

    Education? Well, I revisited your site, going back several pages, and would still welcome a bit more ed-related coverage. It’s an IMHO matter, and I could be all wet.

    More importantly, if you don’t have such a feature in there already, your new layout might include a prominent tag-based school link near the top so parents could get to education-related stories in a hurry.

    Hey, nit territory. As I said, I really like what you’re up to. I hope you’ll do a follow-up comment telling us when the new layout is in place.


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