Journalists 'cautiously pessimistic' about Patch

The topic of AOL’s Patch has been on journalists’ minds before I asked the question at the Online News Association conference in D.C.

It has sparked debate and open conversation about whether this hyperlocal venture is part of the future of journalism or a sign of the end.

In keeping with the ongoing dialogue, I asked people to share their experiences and thoughts on Patch, and many of you did.

This post is a collection of tweets, emails and hallway conversations that I think capture the mood of those outside of Patch are feeling.

NOTE: I’ve be in talks with Patch since last week’s blog post trying to figure out the best way to express its point of view. Rather than craft a statement or respond to one or two of these reactions, and due to my deadline, we’ve opted to do a separate, follow-up post that will be a Q&A with Editor-in-Chief Brian Farnham.

While the details are still being worked out, I would like to crowd-source some questions. I will be bringing up the thoughts expressed here, but feel free to send me your questions, thoughts and concerns: r.hernandez [at]

Sprinkled throughout the responses was a hopeful, wait-and-see sentiment, but it was overshadowed by a lot of unknowns and questions that have journalists confused.

I think there's lots of potential there, but I haven't heard much about their business model and that makes me nervous. (1/2)
That said, some Patch sites I've seen feel a little too

Corona del Mar Today founder Amy Senk doesn’t understand why Patch moved into her community. “It’s such a small village, just 6,000 homes, with a daily successful news site (mine), a weekly Newport Beach paper with offices in CdM village, and two legacy papers that cover it,” she said in an email.

About an hour north is Pekka Pekkala, who asked the same question.

I wonder what is the point of Patch coming to Redondo Beach, which has 3 local newspapers already. What is it

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the question isn’t why come to a succeeding community, it’s why try where others have failed?

Im curious to see how it will do in detroit, which seems to be a target area. Lots of smaller papers aren’t succeeding there.

@DavidVeselenak was contacted by Patch for a possible job, but he’s not sure how Patch will turn out. Veselenak is open to working for them when “I see them a bit more firmly planted in the ground, esp. in Michigan.”

The perception of long hours for poor pay is an undeniable concern many have.

“It may not be evil, but it is a sweatshop,” said an anonymous commentator in the previous Patch post. “I was just hired by Patch last week as a copywriter and was assigned to write business listings as described in the article. IT IS A JOKE. … turns out they are grossly underestimated the time it takes to create a business listing.”

“I’d rather work at Walmart for that pay. At least I’d get an employee discount.”

That said, a few people have colleagues that expressed a more positive outlook and are loving their jobs.

I have a former coworker that just went To work for Patch. He said it was kind of a risk but seemed pretty excited.
The guy I know (a former Chicago Tribune guy) says he loves it. He manages 12-13 sites I think. Says they’re very flexible.

At ONA10, I chatted with a friend who is a regional editorial director for Patch and asked for her take. She was genuinely excited about her job and hinted that Patch had more plans to grow. It is clearly a committed force.

Being journalists, though, there is an incredible amount of skepticism when it comes to Patch. When many in our industry have been laid off, furloughed or heard about the falling revenue, they can’t help but question how a company can being doing the opposite and investing in this venture, especially at such a fast rate.

If you look at their jobs page, they're hiring like crazy. Way too many open positions for something deemed a

Plus, who throws that much support behind an idea like hyperlocalized news websites? The concept is still too new.

It just seems strange. Why would a company throw so much support and money behind a market that hasn't proven viable?

But there is the counter perspective.

I feel you with your skepticism but I'm also happy someone is trying to build something.

Does that mean Patch will work? No. I give them a fighting chance in the current climate. Time will tell.

“I’ve seen first-hand a blog network try this before,” said Steve James, from The Dagger, a hyperlocal site in Harford County, MD. “They had posting and tweeting quotas, just like patch. They paid too much for the returns they were getting from advertising. The stronger blogs were supporting the weaker way out at the end of the long-tail. It lasted for a lot longer then I expected, but the hatchet fell, and fell hard. Mass layoffs and executives removed.”

For me, one of the toughest criticisms comes from two different people I spoke to at ONA10. They each told me they were literally warned by different Patch employees, saying “we’re coming to your town.” It did not sound like a possible partnership, but more of a competitive fight.

As National Public Radio‘s Vivian Schiller said, there is nothing wrong with competition. It’s a good thing. But if the goal is to serve the community, isn’t it better to work together for the community, rather than undercut each other for individual survival?

Well, obviously capitalism doesn’t make for great friendships. But, truthfully, those who were “warned” admitted that they really don’t feel threatened.

“In terms of putting me out of business, I don’t think so,” said Senk. “I mostly run as a labor of love and my profits are not great. I get a fair share of revenue from two legacy media partners that will want to help me succeed and not let Patch take me over.

I’m cautiously pessimistic about Patch because I think hiring reporters and creating more news outlets is a wonderful thing, but going into communities like mine and duplicating efforts seems predatory and not noble; and I have no sense that if sites like mine go away, that Patch has a long-term plan to keep the local news flowing.”

I asked people what type of relationship they wanted to have with Patch:

A nice one :) I’ve been to a few conferences recently where local site operators reported Patch swiping advertisers :(

In an email, James said when Patch came to his community, “they originally made offers to our current writers to be editors,” but settled with former writers as freelancers.

“Also, I don’t know about this partnering thing,” said Senk. “I have been running Corona del Mar Today for going on two years and I understand that a Corona del Mar Patch is opening. I used to work with the women running Patch on the West Coast, so I emailed her to ask about it. She asked if I wanted a job but there was no offer of partnering, and the local Patch editor has not contacted me once — although several of my sources including a city councilwoman told her that she should do so. (I was copied on the emails a couple of times, so I believe that it’s true.)”

Taking all these perspectives in, I think this tweet from Andrew Sims said it best.

key to #onlinejournalism if ur going 2 give me ANOTHER thing to read. Gotta give a reason to switch to new content. outreach!

Doesn’t it really matter what journalists think? Probably not. What really matters is how the community embraces or rejects another source of news and information.

It’s on Patch to prove their worth to the community (and also its advertisers). That’s capitalism. That’s business. And that’s why we’re going to have to wait and see.

Robert Hernandez is a Web Journalism professor at USC Annenberg and co-creator of #wjchat, a weekly chat for Web Journalists held on Twitter. You can contact him by e-mail ([email protected]) or through Twitter (@webjournalist). Yes, he’s a tech/journo geek.

About Robert Hernandez

Robert Hernandez, aka WebJournalist, is an assistant professor at USC Annenberg. Hernandez has been working in Web journalism for more than a decade. He has worked for,,, La Prensa Gr


  1. says:

    I have a friend who went to work for Patch. 70 hour work weeks making $30,000 a year. But hey, any journalism job beats a sell-out job.

  2. says:

    I think AOL is looking for an added value by spotting odd, endearing, or national news making local stories quickly, then racing them up the chain to it’s front page.
    Looking at it as a business, it looks like fast food – people working a couple of levels up are much happier.

  3. says:


    Great piece. I’m still wondering what you mean by “evil” and “this is the end of journalism.” It all sounds sexy, but I’m not sure I understand how Patch is killing journalism. Please explain. Thanks!

  4. says:

    As a Patch employee I can attest that there is potential but one has to wonder about the bottom line. These sites have a burn rate of at least 10k a month when factoring in advertising employees and the cost of support people such as Regional Editors. The regionals are mostly White downsized employees of the local Daily and earn 60k and above yet provide no content nor do they act as last line of defense between what is written and what actually appears on the sites.

    The only local advertiser who can support that burn on a constant basis is local auto dealers and plumbers or HVAC guys and they need wide exposure not necessarily village specific. An honest assessment would see Patch going until the last quarter of 2011 and then in the first quarter of 2012 you will see layoffs of the regionals and the some support staff and by the third quarter of 2012 an orderly shutdown

  5. @Anonymous (,

    I actually don’t think they’re “evil,” but I know that label/concept has been on a lot of people’s mind.

    The argument from those that say it is “evil” tend to be when Patch is described as the “Wal-Mart” of hyperlocal, aiming to kill off indie, hyperlocal sites. It also goes to the comparison of “sweatshops” and also the allegations of plagiarism.

    On the flip side, others believe it is the direct opposite of evil, hiring laid off journos and investing heavily into community journalism. They are putting their money where their mouth is with a $50 million commitment to this venture.

    I’m in the middle. I talk about my POV in my previous post:

    Thanks for your comment!


  6. says:

    I think I can speak to the “evilness” of Patch- or at least the evil GENIUS of Patch: They saw a huge workforce that was completely desperate for work, in a field that is shrinking at a frightening rate- and they exploited it. They got in at the perfect time, to snatch up super talented and experienced journalists who would work their butts off for just pennies a day- because the only alternative was unemployment. I really have to give credit to AOL for such a genius move.

    I’m surprised to see that people are wondering why Patch came into their neighborhood, when their neighborhood is already served well by local media. Is it news to them that the goal of corporations is to make money? Obviously, AOL is going where the money is, in the form of advertisers. If you try to credit them with wanting to “serve communities” or something along those lines, your thinking is way off. This is not a “startup” born of someone’s passion to do good, or provide something of value. This is a major corporation being greedy for a profit. That’s all.

    For the reasons I mentioned above, I think Patch is a detriment to journalism as a craft, and an insult to journalists who are sincere and passionate about serving society.

  7. Just learned that Patch is coming to Echo Park, a community in Los Angeles. I’m also a little pessimistic, here’s why:
    1. As a web designer as well, I hate the template-y look of the site
    2. As a editor/owner/writer for (there is only one other local news source website in the area), we’ve got things well covered.
    3. Yes competition is nice, but on a personal basis it isn’t – I run two websites but also have a full-time job and freelance design. I don’t have time for competition!
    4. Did I mention how ugly the sites are?
    5. On a positive note, despite the long hours mentioned in the article, journalists need jobs (and paying ones, at that)!

    Will be conversing, I’m sure soon, with the new editor for Echo Park, and the I guess we’ll see how it goes…

  8. says:

    I would love to share a piece I wrote about Patch in LostRemote over the summer…what we are finding in New York’s backyard is the kids who work as reporters are earnest enough, but there are few of them who are local and the churn rate is high. And for patch to storm in and “buy” existing events and traditions is not helping them at all.

    Polly Kreisman

  9. says:

    Robert invited me to comment for this and I didn’t get him anything in time. I have spoken out against the corporatization of neighborhood news – not only by AOL – so my sentiments are no secret to anyone who’s followed this, but it’s not a matter of feeling threatened.

    Amy from Corona del Mar voices what I feel. If your mission – which is what AOL boss Armstrong declared at ONA 10 – is to go serve communities that aren’t being served (he told a heartwarming tale about happening onto a community event that hadn’t been publicized by legacy media where he lives), then why are you swooping into places where there’s already plenty of news coverage? Our area is not posted for a Patch gig yet BUT there is a community less than 10 miles south that already has its own community newspaper and a community-information website.

    Also, disingenuously, Patch will not discuss traffic publicly. They got a bunch of unquestioning media coverage for claiming they tripled their traffic on Election Night – but what did that really mean? 500 people in Altadena, Calif., (another town where they opened despite an existing grass-roots news site plus at least one local newspaper) tripling to 1500?

    Most of all, they are doing everything the big dotcoms (of which AOL of course was one) did in the dot-boom. Building layers of management infrastructure, giving away tchotchkes, marketing marketing marketing … One of the new Western Washington editors tweeted a link to a blurb with a photo from the regional gathering they had this week … a stage with a big splashy logo, very glossy, very corporate, very 2000 dot-boom.

    Honestly, I’m not as anti-capitalist hippie as the anti-corporate sentiment may sound. But all this is just so dissonant with serving your community with a small news organization. It’s one thing if they were coming into each town and opening some big glitzy enterprise, then corporate would make sense. But if someone’s going to work hard, and largely alone, then why not be a community based business, keeping the money in the community, being responsive to the community, letting things grow organically …

    My only hope is that when it falls apart after AOL has burned tens of millions of dollars, some of the community journalists will have built enough of a base – in communities not otherwise served – to open their own sites. Patch will live on as an automated aggregator but somebody will still need to cover the community councils etc. They really should just cut to the chase and do it now.

  10. says:

    Patch is DOA. Everything they’re doing is contrary to what it takes to succeed online. They’re throwing away their $50 million, why? Tax write-off for AOL? Overstaffed, not covering communities correctly for online audiences — simply replicatng newspapers online, while online takes a new mindset. No ads either. Huh? Something smells here, maybe the concept and management. Loally, they hired the biggest failure in local online journalism history and he/she hired their non-productive cronies. I’m scratching my head on who thought they were doing what with this useless monstrosity, but I give them 18 months before the money runs out and the party is over.

  11. says:

    It’s on Patch to prove their worth to the community (and also it’s advertisers). That’s capitalism. That’s business. And that’s why we’re going to have to wait and see.

    And … “it’s advertisers” … that’s a typo.

  12. says:


    Nothing you wrote makes sense. There are ads all over Patch sites where I am.

  13. says:

    Cory Bergman here from @nextdoormedia, a network of neighborhood blogs in Seattle. Speaking for myself only.

    I think it’s great that Patch is investing in a business that I believe has so much opportunity. And I have to say, I think they’re doing good job, hiring a lot of smart people.

    My only concern is the AMOUNT of investment in such a short period of time — unprecedented in the history of local online news. By extension, AOL has the potential to be abnormally disruptive among the mom-and-pops (indie blogs) and legacy companies (newspapers) struggling to gain/regain profitability.

    I think competition is terrific. It’s natural that corporate competitors come into the picture with emerging business opportunities. But there’s a responsibility that emerges when a business expands faster and more aggressively than the business opportunity has proven to date. If you’re right, you’re a genius. If you’re wrong, well, you’ve left an unnatural trail of destruction behind — all the talent scooped up, all the indie blogs that could’ve been, all the local media companies that diverted investment to compete on a new front, without a clear business plan to sustainability.

    It’s also worth noting that in the traditional life cycle, we should be entering a time of consolidation. But Patch has (to date) shown no interest in buying/investing in promising startups or legacy companies in the space, amplifying the disruption. Perhaps that will change, as AOL CEO Tim Armstrong hinted a couple weeks ago.

  14. @Anonymous (,

    The typo has been fixed. Thanks!


  15. If you’re right, you’re a genius. If you’re wrong, well, you’ve left an unnatural trail of destruction behind — all the talent scooped up, all the indie blogs that could’ve been, all the local media companies that diverted investment to compete on a new front, without a clear business plan to sustainability.