AOL thinks it's found the answer — and its name is Patch. Last year, the fading Internet provider bought Patch.com, then a local-news start-up site based in New York, for $7 million and almost immediately began pouring money into expanding its operations into 18 states.
If AOL met its own projections for 2010, it will have spent $50 million building a national network of sites reporting local news. Make that hyper-local news, micro-local, if you will. Unlike aggregation sites or community message boards, Patch employs professional journalists. Many are straight out of J-school, but other hires are veteran print reporters who've been pushed out of newspaper jobs — and still others jumped ship from daily papers to join the newcomer.
According to one media news site, Patch is likely "the biggest new hirer of full-time journalists in the U.S."
In metro Atlanta, Patch is gearing up to launch more than 30 individual neighborhood news sites, some in such tiny bedroom communities as Holly Springs-Hickory Flat and Peachtree Corners-Berkeley Lake. (For intowners, those are in central Cherokee and western Gwinnett counties.)
I find it interesting that the first local Patch site to go live this week was Dunwoody, the new stomping grounds of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Was AOL firing a shot over the bow of the DJC? Also up is the site for Lilburn-Mountain Park.
So far, the story mix is about what you'd expect of a community newspaper: high school football game recaps; teacher of the year named; and features on artwork by charter-school students, Veteran's Day services and a local appearance by supermodel Cindy Crawford. But there's also harder news, such as a story — and a next-day follow-up — about a fatal shooting outside a Dunwoody day care center.
So, who will Patch be competing with, once it rolls out all its planned metro sites? Once I see what kind of content it posts for East Atlanta, Midtown and Buckhead, I'll have a better idea, but I'm guessing the CL news staff will be crossing paths with Patch reporters. But people don't really come to our website or this blog for hyper-local community news, and they certainly don't expect that from our weekly print paper.
No, I'm betting it's the AJC — with its current focus on highly localized suburban coverage — that's most likely to feel pressure from Patch.
The future will be an interesting place.
Are my nards going to get irradiated?
sarcasm, and the lost art therein.
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