Patch.com, AOL’s local-news entry, debuts this week in Edina, Eagan

AOL’s Patch.com, which has hoovered up local journalists from newspapers big and small, will finally hit Minnesota in Eagan and Edina this week, says regional publisher Dan Krolczyk.

Patch has been advertising for nearly 50 sites’ worth of local editors, but currently, lists 15 Minnesota sites presumably “coming soon”:

I had hoped to talk with the Patch brain trust last week, but we’re still working that out. For the moment, Patchsters in Edina, EaganSouthwest Minneapolis, Minnetonka, St. Louis Park, Fridley and Northfield are tweeting furiously, and those editors and others are plying their trade through Facebook pages.

Patch’s sites blend City Hall, crime and sports news with lifestyle coverage and business listings. Like many other sites, there are slideshows and videos; readers and business owners are encouraged to become “members.” You can see an example of an established site here.

Patch claims it’s hiring more journalists than anyone else — 600 nationally this year alone. This is a different order of magnitude than another recent local-local entrant, KSTP’s community pages, where only a couple of staffers were added.

Patch’s local editors get paid as much as the mid-$40,000s (more for four area supervisors who have more experience). AOL outfits them with a Blackberry, laptop, flipcam, still camera, and police scanner. To add to the chicken-with-its-head-cut-off factor, the editors get a minuscule but not irrelevant freelance budget and must compile a list of local businesses.

Patch promises to up the metabolism of local local-local journalism. The writing test requires an applicant to tweet and write a brief story within 30 minutes, then write through and retweet a full version in 60 minutes, re-do both again in the following hour, and identify links and follow-up questions when the dust settles. Unlike many community weeklies, Patch represents a wire-service schedule for an Internet world.

One of the best things about the venture is the quality of locals they’re hiring. Most are young but experienced reporters who have demonstrated news chops elsewhere. Still, a ton of questions lurk.

Beyond the basic question — will readers care? — will the national upstarts really add to the local info flow or just drive the locals out?

There are some sleepy incumbents who definitely merit tough competition. But others are deeper and better staffed than Patch, and already struggling with the Main Street Recession. It would suck if AOL’s arrival was the final nail, even if the marketplace’s invisible hand is poised for an inevitable hammering.

On the business side, will Patch’s listings work for local businesses or have specialty sites already claimed that pie? And will the “entrepreneurial” journalists be able to navigate the inevitable conflicts of interests and burnout? Another rapid-expansion, rapid-production danger: plagiarism scandals.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Matt Lewis on 11/08/2010 - 09:53 am.

    I didn’t know Patch.com existed until a couple days ago, when I found that a friend writes a column for my hometown patch.

    I’ve got mixed feelings about this. I could easily see this taking out the rather underwhelming KSTP local coverage. But judging by the description of the coverage, I don’t see them doing much to hurt the really good coverage done by the Southwest Journal, for example. If nothing else, the use of “the Star and Tribune” by the SW tweeter has already made me wary of who AOL is air-dropping in for their reporters. I don’t doubt their enthusiasm, but hyper-local coverage gains so much from people who are already immersed in the neighborhood. (And here I sound like a massive hypocrite, only having moved to the Twin Cities 18 months ago.)

    Maybe I’m being harsh, but the beauty of hyper-local news isn’t hyperactivity, it’s digging deep into stories of interest to local residents. SW Journal does that, I’m skeptical that the Patch model allows it.

  2. Submitted by Sanden Totten on 11/08/2010 - 04:28 pm.

    A lot of people are skeptical of Patch – we’re hearing the same story here in LA. But they are hiring some good people.

    David, I was wondering if you knew much about where they are getting the money and how much they have? I know AOL is funding this – but is it just change they had laying around or are they getting grant money of some kind? How long can they fund this without it turning a profit since I assume that part might take a while?

  3. Submitted by David Brauer on 11/08/2010 - 09:16 pm.

    Sanden – AOL bought Patch for $7 million and said earlier this year they are investing $50 million. I’m pretty sure that’s all private money – and given the company’s still profiting from *dial-up internet* they know they have to find something with a long-term payoff.

    Is local content it? Their ads are geared toward national brands getting local audience. That’s why there’s a ton of skepticism.

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