Local Community News: AOL’s Patch

Community Organizing

patchNew Orleans I read the recent story in the Times about AOL’s $50M investment and grand hopes for Patch.com, a so-called hyper-local news source with wild interest.  In these days of regular newspaper and TV news cutbacks what a great idea, especially for underserved communities:  real community news!

The “patch model” seems to be to have an “editor” or reporter in various communities with a group of freelancers and create 5 or 6 “news” items per day on the local site to create community news.  3 million individual users were on the site per month as of December the article reported although in any one day they might only average 100 individual readers and zoom up to 500 on something “big.”  Hey, I’ve built traffic before.  None of that is bad, though it might not cause advertisers to swoon necessarily.

Still sounds great, and what’s more it seems accessible in a time when the news “hole” in the local paper is so small that a lot of what is really important in community developments is not going to find any space, unfortunately, yet is arguably essential.  For news on community organization activities or labor activities which were slim even in the best of times, perhaps a “Patch” would mend some of the news vacuum and create a space for such news, I thought.

Following up on the Patch.com website I was a little disappointed to see that with over 1000 different local most of the work was crammed along the East Coast with a smattering in places like Illinois and the Midwest,  a little activity in California and Washington, and a small southern footprint only in Georgia and Florida.  Whatever!  You have to start somewhere and they seemed to be determined to spread so once again, let’s keep an open mind.

I noticed there was a way to link to a non-profit side, “patch.org,” which really excited me!  Once there they were singing my song.  They were talking about lower income communities, the underserved, partnerships with community organizations:  I was in love!  They offered the opportunity to connect, follow-up and move forward.  Johnny-on-the-spot, I sent them an email on the 16th.

The address they gave was to the Patch Foundation:  foundation@patch.com.  Ok, I pressed SEND and away we went.  Almost as quickly, bam, the email came back as “undeliverable.”  I double checked.  Yes, @patch.com.  I tried again.  Bam-Bam!  Back in my face!!  This was not good.

I changed it to foundation@patch.org, and this time, voila! The email did not bounce back, so I was in business.

Well, maybe?  That was Sunday.  This is Friday, no word from the Patch-people.  That’s not good.

The only way “hyper-local” can work is deeply embedded and responsive at the grassroots level.  Not so much of that yet.

Fingers crossed, but this could be way more about the advertisers and way less about the community.  We’ll have to see what happens here.