AOL used to be the grand dame of the internet service providers until high speed internet came along. AOL has struggled to reinvent itself ever since. Perhaps the recently launched Patch.com, a local content site, will help AOL transform itself into the place to go for local content. Patch describes itself as a “community-specific news and information platform dedicated to providing comprehensive and trusted local coverage for individual towns and communities.” Patch currently covers communities in four states: California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. By the end of this month, Patch will add another 15 sites.
Patch covers communities with populations of 15,000 to 100,000 that are “drastically underserved by media.” A recently released study on news coverage of Los Angeles, the second largest city in the country, said that the average half-hour of L.A. local news “packed all its local government into 22 seconds.” If the second largest city in the U.S. is lacking in local coverage, smaller cities are surely in dire need of media coverage.
AOL created Patch in order to “radically reinvent community journalism.” It may just accomplish that goal if the requirements to be a local editor are evidence: local editors must possess a degree in journalism and a “firm grasp of AP style.” The experience of its president, Warren Webster and editor-in-chief, Brian Farnham will also help Patch reach its goal. Webster has years of experience in the media, including as director of magazine publishing for Gannett in Westchester, NY. Farnham is the former editor-in-chief of Time Out New York magazine.
Patch is coming along at the right time as local citizen journalism needs a kick in the pants. A study by the University of Missouri’s Reynold’s Journalism Institute said local citizen journalism sites “fall short of matching online news sites run by legacy journalism organizations.” The report also said that “most cities and towns are not served by citizen sites that would be adequate substitutes for online commercial news.”
Last year AOL’s Chairman and CEO, Tim Armstrong said, “Local remains one of the most disaggregated experiences on the Web today — there’s a lot of information out there but simply no way for consumers to find it quickly and easily.” Armstrong said that local “is a space that’s for innovation and an area where AOL has a significant audience and a valuable mapping service in MapQuest.”
Armstrong added, “Going forward, local will be a core area of focus and investment for AOL. The acquisitions of Patch and Going will help us build out our local network further with excellent local services that enable people to stay better informed about what’s going on in their neighborhood.”