Posts tagged patch

Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you’re fired. Out!

AOL boss Tim Armstrong fires Abel Lenz, AOL Patch Creative Director, during a conference call with Patch employees.

FJP: In an earlier conference call, Armstrong announced that Patch will shut down about 400 of its roughly 900 community sites. Up to 500 employees will be laid off, Jim Romenesko reported:

Armstrong complained about Patch’s new content management system, and said bloggers have stopped using the site because of the “upgrade” problems. Also, readers are complaining about the lack of news and ability to find relevant material.

More on Lenz’s firing, via Business Insider:

Armstrong complained about leaks to the media. He said the leaks were making Patch seem like “loser-ville” in the press. […] A second source with direct knowledge of these events…tells us that Lenz always took photos at Patch all-hands meetings.

He would later post them to Patch’s internal news site. Lenz isn’t answering his phone. When media reporter Jim Romenesko tweeted at him, Lenz replied: “I appreciate the interest Jim, but I have nothing to share. Go Patch!”

Patch: 863 Sites, 12 Profitable

AOL’s hyperlocal network Patch is struggling.

Via Fortune:

It was supposed to be a savior. AOL’s hyperlocal news venture Patch was created to fill the void left by the death of local newspapers around the country. Finding a dearth of online news in his Riverside, Connecticut hometown, Tim Armstrong co-founded Patch in 2007. Embedded editors would file local news and maintain neighborhood activity calendars; the local ad market was largely untapped, or so went the thinking…

…The math around Patch has always been tricky. In two years, it rapidly expanded to 863 sites, from Agoura Hills, California to Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Content is supplied by 1,000 professional journalists and some 14,000 bloggers. AOL has poured $160 million into the venture, despite paltry revenues. In 2011, it made just $20 million from Patch.

AOL likes to say that Patch losses aren’t really losses but instead necessary initial investments for a profitable longterm future.

But is there a longterm future in hyperlocal?

Bob Garfield, co-host of NPR’s On the Media, believes the answer is two-fold. There isn’t a market for independent hyperlocal sites, but there is one for a consolidated network of them, which is exactly what Patch is.

Simply, there’s too much audience fragmentation and downward pressure on advertising prices for the independent operator.

"Nobody, nobody, will have the critical mass to professionally and profitably deliver [hyperlocal] news," he says in this interview (video, starting at 2:30) with Borrell Associates. “The future isn’t in hyperlocal, per se, as a stand alone operation. In my opinion, the answer will be in consolidation.”

Alex Salkever of Street Fight thinks Garfield has it wrong. While agreeing that the economies of scale won’t allow hyperlocal sites to exist on traditional online advertising, innovative new forms might do the trick.

"With Twitter and other real-time microblogging tools," Salkever writes, "merchants can integrate hourly deals into the local blog spots in order to, say, take advantage of bad weather (BOGO hot cocoa at the local coffee shop, anyone?)."

This is very true and the hyperlocal site of the future will probably look very different (in both interface and delivery platform) than what we think of as traditional new sites. But I think Garfield’s final point still stands: that the future of hyperlocal may very well be consolidated national brands like Patch.

Salkever counters that mom and pop tech blogs with lean staffs and a whole lot of daring do punctured the tech coverage of the mainstream press to become some of the biggest players out there but that analogy is a little bit apples and robots.

People who follow tech are going to follow whoever’s producing the best news about it. There’s no geographic constraint on where that news is important or interesting. People following local high school sports, or town council meetings? Except for a very interesting few, they aren’t heading to other hyperlocal sites to see what’s new about a random town’s residential zoning issues.

So, Patch is wounded but it has built scale. Now we’ll see if it has the imagination to make it sustainable. There are, after all, upwards of a thousand journalists whose current jobs depend on it. — Michael

One Way, Or Another

Two opposing newsroom strategies are flaring up today.

First, comes good news from Salon. Editor in Chief Kerry Lauerman wrote yesterday that as the online magazine committed more resources to original reporting and reduced its aggregation efforts, the site’s page views and unique visitors skyrocketed.

His takeaway is something that makes news junkies smile: quality trumps quantity.

Via Nieman Lab:

In December and January, Salon published 33 percent fewer posts than it had in those same months the previous years — but it saw 40 percent greater traffic. Slashing the amount of content it published by a third, the site still logged record-high unique visitor numbers — 7.23 million at the end of January — and without any “big viral hits” that would have skewed the numbers, Lauerman said.

Meanwhile, Jim Romenesko reports that AOL’s Patch is pivoting in the opposite direction:

A Patch insider tells Romenesko readers that the AOL-owned hyperlocal news sites plan to cut staff and freelance budgets and start producing “easy, quick-hitting, cookie-cutter copy.” Examples: Best Ofs, and features like “What’s happening to this vacant storefront?”…

…Patch has implemented a new “One Team One Goal” strategy, with a budget that effectively eliminates anywhere from 50 to 100 percent of freelance dollars, depending on the Patch region and how the supervising editor and regional ad director choose to allocate dollars…

The editorial emphasis is now on “easy, quick-hitting, cookie-cutter copy,” including mandatory “Best Of” features (i.e., best coffeeshop, best burgers, etc.) that compel businesses and readers to visit and participate in the Patch directories.

Huffington Post Recruiting Teens to Write for Free

Last Friday Forbes reported that AOL’s Huffington Post Media Group is launching HuffPost High School, a vertical aimed at the teen set.

The site will be edited by a paid 17-year-old but like much of the Huffington Post, content will be produced for free. In this case by unpaid teenage bloggers.

Running with the strategy, AOL will also solicit unpaid contributions from young teens and high schoolers for Patch, its network of 800 hyperlocal news sites.

"We’ll be expanding our sharing platform to teens," an AOL spokeswoman explains to Forbes using the company’s social vernacular.  

Over at AdAge, Simon Dumenco is none too pleased:

Let’s get real here: AOL is not just another benign outlet for aspiring teen writers; it’s not the school newspaper writ large. It is, thanks to its combo with HuffPo, a massive, highly aggressive, cynically SEO’d page-view machine with a history of dubious ethics — and let’s not forget that AOL, despite all its troubles, still had second-quarter revenue of $542.2 million.

Back in February, AOL property TechCrunch reported that Patch “is churning out one piece of content every 9 seconds.” That’s what this is about, folks: churn. Page views. And getting unpaid children to help AOL shovel content — digital coal — into its page-view oven.

Quite simply, AOL/HuffPo intends to monetize the work of minors earning $0/hour. On Patch and HuffPost High School, it will sell ads against content created by minors — but it will not share advertising revenue with those minors.

Self-respecting advertisers have to ask if they really want to be a part of something like this.

Meanwhile, a $105 million class action lawsuit by former unpaid Huffington Post writers continues. So too a Newspaper Guild call for writers to boycott the publication.

HuffPo has long defended its practice of using unpaid contributors by arguing that consenting adults can share their labor in any way they please. True enough, but what happens when your writers aren’t old enough to legally consent?

Writes Jeff Berkovici:

Should teenagers who can’t legally vote, drink or have sex be allowed to decide for themselves what to publish in a place where it could potentially be read by millions of people? What if a 15-year-old wants to write confessionally about having an abortion, as this adult writer did, or joke about smoking marijuana, as this writer did? And what if that 15-year-old’s parent wants to have that posting deleted? And what if that parent is divorced, and his ex-spouse who shares custody gives her permission?

If you sell lemonade for $1 and it costs $800 to make it, that’s not a great business

Robert Peck, managing partner at Quasar Capital Advisors, a consultant to Internet and technology companies, speaking to the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal reports that AOL is spending approximately $160 million a year on Patch, its hyperlocal news network.

Unfortunately, Patch’s revenue model is an ad-play and people just aren’t visiting these local sites in large enough numbers to make them attractive to advertisers. Ever hopeful, Tim Armstrong, AOL’s CEO, says the Patch network will eventually be profitable.

Via the WSJ:

AOL is spending about $160 million a year on Patch, which equates to about $150,000 to run each individual Patch site annually, according to an analyst’s estimate. AOL first focused on building traffic to Patch sites, and just recently started ramping up ad sales. Mr. Armstrong said in a call with investors last week that while revenues for Patch sites are small, they are growing quickly and on track to be profitable over time.

The larger issue is that after spending $315 million on the Huffington Post and over $90 million to buy Techcrunch, 5min Media and Thing Labs in order to transform itself into a content company, overall traffic growth across AOL properties is declining.

Wall Street Journal, AOL Growth Comes at a Cost: After Acquisition Binge, Internet Company Faces Fierce Competition for Ad Dollars.

If we accept Business Insider’s diagnosis of Patch as a business failure, will anybody step forward to make the case that the sites are a journalistic success? I’ve yet to read that piece.
Local news is only expensive to publish if you have a big corporate structure to support and shareholder demands to meet. There are a handful of successful local online ventures that produce a ton of highly engaging, sought after, popular, memorable local news that do it at a fraction of the cost of the corporate entities.

Critics have raised concerns about the financial sustainability of AOL’s. Those in favor argue that it is different than large corporate structures and could flourish with enough writers. Others say readers just aren’t interested in niche communities, and, therefore, hyperlocal journalism doesn’t appeal to a broad enough  audience. 

Howard Owens, Batavian, Via Poynter.

We prefer Neighborhoodr.

For content farms, the Panda doesn’t play nice.

You can’t mess with Google forever. In February, the corporation concocted what it concocts best: an algorithm. The algorithm, called Panda, affects some 12 percent of searches, and it has — slowly and imperfectly — been improving things. Just a short time ago, the Web seemed ungovernable; bad content was driving out good. But Google asserted itself, and credit is due: Panda represents good cyber-governance. It has allowed Google to send untrustworthy, repetitive and unsatisfying content to the back of the class. No more A’s for cheaters.

For content farms, the Panda doesn’t play nice.

You can’t mess with Google forever. In February, the corporation concocted what it concocts best: an algorithm. The algorithm, called Panda, affects some 12 percent of searches, and it has — slowly and imperfectly — been improving things. Just a short time ago, the Web seemed ungovernable; bad content was driving out good. But Google asserted itself, and credit is due: Panda represents good cyber-governance. It has allowed Google to send untrustworthy, repetitive and unsatisfying content to the back of the class. No more A’s for cheaters.

The problem with Patch is that if you really look at the model, banner ads have been around for 15-20 years online, and it’s essentially an old product with a new twist on it from a local new standpoint.


If you look at LivingSocial or Groupon, that makes perfect sense in this day and age because it’s measurable and it’s identifiable in this day and age, it’s transparent. Patch is on the other end of that continuum. It’s brand advertising to companies that should not even consider that for dollar one, much less their last dollar.

A disgruntled advertising sales rep for Aol’s Patch, the hyperlocal news network that’s growing like a weed, says the profit model is highly unsustainable, and has “been a disaster.” A winning scenario depends on selling overpriced ad units to unsophisticated local advertisers, which the salesperson called “garbage.” The success of Patch is pivotal to the success of Aol under CEO Tim Armstrong, who has made the company the largest employer of journalists in the U.S., in no small measure due to breakneck hiring for Patch sites across the country.
Aol’s Patch, the hyperlocal news site has announced it will be expanding its coverage to three more states, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where the earliest primary voting occurs, according to PaidContent.
Hard to believe it, but the 2012 presidential election will be in full swing less than nine months from now. The Iowa Caucuses are to be held on Feb. 6, 2012, as the nation’s first nominating contest, mark the start of the election season. 

Aol’s Patch, the hyperlocal news site has announced it will be expanding its coverage to three more states, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where the earliest primary voting occurs, according to PaidContent.

Hard to believe it, but the 2012 presidential election will be in full swing less than nine months from now. The Iowa Caucuses are to be held on Feb. 6, 2012, as the nation’s first nominating contest, mark the start of the election season. 

Patch Wants 8,000 Bloggers

Forbes reports that AOL’s Patch seeks to supplement its network of local editors with community bloggers.

Per the Huffington way, contributors will be paid in glory. 

As Jeff Berkovici writes

Arianna Huffington must not be taking that class action lawsuit against her too seriously. Not only is AOL’s new content chief not cutting down on the use of unpaid bloggers, she’s doubling down — literally. Patch, AOL’s network of hyperlocal news sites, is trying to recruit as many as 8,000 bloggers in the next eight days, according to editor in chief Brian Farnham.

Note that the effort comes quickly after all former freelancers were released. In a memo to staff, Patch Editor In Chief Brian Farnham writes:

We’ve set a big goal here but I KNOW we can hit it. Ten times 800 sites is 8000 bloggers—wouldn’t it be amazing to have that many local voices sounding off right out of the gate? Let’s shoot for it and let’s do it.

Eight thousand free and willing contributors? Amazing, indeed.

Warren Webster, President of Patch Media (AOL), discusses how they’ve grown since first launching in 2008 and reveals where they hope to be in the upcoming years (hint: everywhere).

We’ve noted Patch a number of times on the FJP so were interested to hear their unfiltered selves

They are, after all, hiring more journalists than any other outlet in North America.

Run Time: 13:40.

This is the second of four hyperlocal videos we’re releasing this week. They are from an MIT event at the New York Times that our sister site ScribeMedia.org filmed.

That Smell You Hear is Conflict of Interest

Time once was that a “watchdog” press would closely scrutinize the work of elected officials and the powerful.

Adversarial journalism was its bread and butter, and relationships with those covered were held at arms length.

Time once was.

Via the James Rainey of the LA Times:

Imagine if the San Francisco Chronicle beefed up coverage of the state capital and asked Gov. Jerry Brown which agencies deserved the most coverage. Or what if Fox News planned to take a closer look at the United Nations with the blessing of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon?

The snickering that ensued would be prolonged, followed by a righteous blast of indignation from other news outlets. Journalism born out of such cooperation would rightly stink of conflict.

That will be at least the initial aroma around the latest journalistic initiative by America’s fastest-growing news outlet, Patch.com. The AOL-owned operation announced this week that it would open hyper-local news sites in Newark, N.J., “in partnership with Newark Mayor Cory Booker.”

"It will be great to have their help, since they are so plugged into the community, to help us identify the places to start," Arianna Huffington tells Rainey. "But that does not in any way immunize them from criticism or … the kind of journalism we would need to engage in."

Aol’s Hyperlocal Site Patch Spent $1.39 For Each Unique View in 2010

At the MIT Enterprise Forum held last week at the New York Times Center, Michael Shapiro of TheAlternativePress.com lashed out at Aol’s hyperlocal effort, Patch, claiming the company lavishes money on new user acquisition to little effect.

During his presentation Shapiro aimed to put AOL’s Patch.com on the defensive, saying that the company recently announced that it had spent $50 million during 2010 and had only obtained 3 million unique views per month, raising questions about  Patch.com’s revenue model and its viability.  Shapiro noted that despite spending $50 million, AOL’s Patch.com had approximately the same readership per town as TheAlternativePress.com, though at 4.5 times the cost.  “AOL’s Patch.com spent $1.39 per unique view in 2010.  We spent about a quarter,” Shapiro noted, adding that “TheAlternativePress.com is the David to AOL’s Patch.com Goliath and we’re the only profitable hyperlocal here tonight.  Our business model works.”

While Patch may be filling the void left as local papers close across the U.S., if true, their business model is charity for underemployed journalists, but far from sustainable.

h/t: Mark Briggs