Looks like Patch.com is dead...

It looks as if AOL’s great experiment with hyperlocal news is ending… Patch.com fired most of its remaining editors yesterday, meaning that any remaining activity will be the kind of generic USA-Today newsy feature filler we’ve been seeing more and more.

If you don’t live in a small town or a region underserved by traditional media, you probably don’t even bother with Patch, and with fairly good reason. However, if you don’t have a true town newspaper and the regionals are either expensive or give minimal coverage to your town, Patch has been an essential element of news and information distribution.

I just tapped our local editor to see what’s up… and his email bounced. 'Nuf sed.

What is starting a slow burn in me is not that this effort failed, but that it was propped up, waiting for ad revenue to make AOL and its successors rich, just long enough to drive every alternative out of business. We’ve lost weekly and monthly local ragazines, at least one competing town social/news site, and any expectation that news and events will be reported with anyone but Patch. Now it’s imploded, and getting any kind of replacement here will take time and may never be entirely successful. (The old-guard microjournalism folks have all quit or retired.)

So fuck ya very much, AOL, for proving once again that you can’t spell AsshOLe without ya.

I’m beginning to think the best business model for local journalism is to go it as a non-profit. Solicit donations from people that care about quality local journalism, get grants, etc. Subscriptions don’t work, pay-per-click won’t work, no one can figure out how to make advertising work, so something completely different needs to be attempted.

I think about myself: I have no interest in subscribing to something in order to receive content, but I would **donate **to an organization that supports good local journalism. Make it voluntary, and tax deductible, and people may be interested. Give what you want-- a dollar here, $100 there.

Anyway, my local patch has gone downhill since their first editor left for another job two years ago (they’ve been relying too much on generic and regional content since then), so I’m not terribly surprised this finally came to an end. Writing’s been on the wall since they laid off a huge number of their local editors last summer. Local editors have had to take on more areas, which accounts for the increase in regional content, and decrease in local stuff.

It was a noble idea, but it relied too much on failed and outdated methods. Big, national corporations just* can’t do local media*. My local newspaper, which survived and thrived for three-quarters of a century as a locally-owned news outlet, has completely shriveled up since being bought by an out-of-state media conglomerate. No more local staff, no more local stories, hell-- no more local office even.

The Patch people really got a fast hard one yesterday: the COO just pulled together a mass-firing conference call and everyone’s company emails were shut down by 5pm.

Wow, that was a really brutal conference call.

Way to jettison hundreds of employees in less than 100 seconds!

No good business karma will result from this. Guaranteed.

I can’t say too much about this latest development. In St. Louis Patch quit using free-lancers in early 2013, laid off most of the staff last August and pulled the plug entirely in October.

They’re trying that here with The Beacon. Unfortunately, it pretty much ended up being supported by seven local millionaires, and couldn’t seem to attract broader support (donations) and the grants didn’t last forever. Now it’s mergedwith the local public radio station. That gives the radio station vastly improved news coverage, but it also means that The Beacon is now relying on seven local millionaires and the state of Missouri for its funding, which isn’t exactly the model of a free and independent local media everyone hoped for.

Patch has a history of laying people off en masse.

The thing that annoys me most about the current state of news distribution – Internet, TV, newspapers, whatever – is that there really is no good source of local news anymore, at least for small towns like mine. I know much more about what’s going on in Washington than about what’s going on in my city hall or my school district. And I’m sure that one day that’s going to bite me.

I thought Patch.com was all crowdsourced.

The original idea was that crowdsourcing would take care of most of the local content, with professional staff covering “real” news.

What happened, at least around here, was that the crowdsourced content was all shady chiropractors pushing dietary supplements to prevent cancer, extremist whackjobs who treated Patch as their personal blog, and a lot of organizations publishing their favorite articles from that month’s employee newsletter. Our regional editor decided that the Comments section for the articles should be unmoderated, giving the readers full opportunity to post irrelevant, racist, libelous and sometimes obscene reactions to a story. (Eventually the local editors were allowed to redact the more outrageous comments.)

Meanwhile, editors couldn’t get crowdsourced stories about the local school board, city council, high school football, etc. You know, the stuff people actually want a local news site to report. The editors had to take on more reporting themselves, or rely on paid free-lancers. Free-lancers cost money, which pushed losses even higher, and the editors got pulled in too many different directions, with their quality suffering.

Right now the 22 local Patches in the area are simply aggregating stories from other local media and posting news releases sent out by companies. There’s virtually nothing in any of them that’s any different than any of the others.

Patch’s adaptations to the new model include opening comments back up to regions, meaning that the loons can all egg each other on and what little value the local posts and discussion had are gone. They originally had such area/region articles and comments and it was nonstop loonacy; when the pulled things back to truly local the comment levels dropped, but tended to be relevant and interesting to the issue’s readership. Now, in place of any local content, the issues share blithering filler items, and the loons manage to turn every one into another example of gummint waste, goddamocrats, scooter-crowd sewage.

As I said above, if you have overlapping news sources for your area, Patch probably wasn’t any asset to you. In places where newspapers are thinly spread and there are no good local coverage sites, Patch played a vital role - especially with a good editor, which we had. I have been reading my local Patch since before I moved here. After this last change for the worse, I deleted all my bookmarks for it. Another case of attempting to wring income from this internet thing killing not only what could have been a useful platform, but taking all competitors with it.

I agree it is awful. For example in the town I work in we used to have a local weekly newspaper. I would see the reporter come in at least once a week and read every single police report. When that paper was around the residents actually knew what was going on in town. Fast forward to today, the only paper that really covers the area covers the entire state. They basically only report on incidents that we report to them in press releases. Often their stories are word for word from the press release.

Add to that the fact that New Jersey pretty much does not have a TV station to report the news. We used to but Chris Christie got pissed off that they did a story on him that he didn’t like so he killed the station while wasting millions of dollars getting rid of it and calling it savings.

So now we don’t have any real reporting of anything on the local level and no TV station that reports on the daily workings of the state legislature. That is not progress.