Lately several Greenbelters have asked me “Is Greenbelt Patch still alive?” or variants thereof, so here’s what I know: the content is no longer local to Greenbelt, except for the weather, provided automatically with a widget. Some of the post are about Maryland, but much of it is national and even international.
From perusing the stories over the last few months it’s clear that no one is specifically assigned to cover Greenbelt. What happened to our local Patch is just part of a nationwide cutback that was announced in June of last year, when 400 of the sites were shut down altogether and more than 350 people at Patch were laid off.
How Not to Do Hyper-Local Journalism
The demise of Patch is being cited as a lesson for all of online journalism, so a story worth reciting. Tim Armstrong of AOL helped found Patch in 2007 and when he took over AOL in 2009, he persuaded the company to buy it. Some reports claim that AOL spent $300 million on Patch, though AOL says the figure was more like $200 million. Whatever – BIG BUCKS. At its peak, there were about 900 sites (at a cost of about $100,000 each), and a total of 1,400 people were employed to run them.
Media professor/journalist Jeff Jarvis delivered an almost-postmortum for Patch saying that local advertisers found the sites too expensive for the audience delivered. Jarvis blames Patch’s failure first on its lack of passion – because hyperlocal journalism has to start with caring about your town. He found that while Patch had cherry-picked its communities and its costs were rock bottom, it followed an old-media, top-down model, including vowing to kill local bloggers (!). Jarvis believes that hyperlocal will work only if it’s scaled up from mom-and-pop operations written by people deeply involved in their communities. (This hyperlocal blogger agrees!)
Toward that end, Jarvis is working with universities in New Jersey to support 30-50 local bloggers with content-sharing, audio-sharing, training and soon, an ad-sharing network. But will putting together a network of independent blogs generate any more income than Patch’s top-down system did? Jarvis concedes that the bloggers “will have to be eating a lot of Ramen noodles at first” but that “a beat can be self-sustaining.” He cites some hyperlocal blogs bringing in as much as $250,000 a year.
Gotta say, the idea of a network of local bloggers is pretty intriguing, though not for the advertising network and the promise of income. That’s not what Greenbelt Live is about.
Impact on Greenbelt Live
One happy note is that former Patch contributor Jeff Lemieux is now writing for Greenbelt Live, and his very first post has attracted more comments here and at the Greenbelters Facebook group than any in the blog’s 16-month history! And I’m nudging former Patch editor Cindy Henneberg (who did a great job) for contributions. Any other takers? Whether you wrote for the Patch or not, come on aboard; the pay is nonexistent but the local passion is genuine.
Update: Patch has been sold to Hale Global, a company that specializes in turning around distressed businesses.
Another source: David Carr of the New York Times reported in December 2013 on the “White Whale” that is Patch.