Being in the community newspaper business, I’ve followed with interest the rise and fall of AOL’s Patch.
Patch, a network of hyperlocal Internet news sites, was once touted as the logical evolution of community news.
I didn’t buy that notion.
AOL recently announced it is cutting 40 percent of its work force, approximately 500 people, and closing up to 40 percent of its news sites.
I believe Patch is a failure because the standards to which real newspapers hold themselves cannot be achieved without much greater expense than AOL is willing to bear.
While there’s a fair number of naysayers who have almost giddily pronounced the printed word all but dead, I’ve always thought Patch would prove otherwise.
When a reader grabs their newspaper out of the box or buys one at a newsstand, they’re not thinking about all of the parts and pieces that led to that moment, nor do they need to.
From my perspective, though, it’s mind-boggling that everything comes together at all, let alone two times a week.
The process of gathering and reporting the news is anything but simple or inexpensive. Reporters are paid professionals, most of whom have college degrees. Those I’ve had the privilege of working with consider what they do a responsibility. It sounds trite, but rare is the community newspaper reporter who is doing it just for the money.
Of course, there are many other hard costs related to producing the newspaper — sales, customer service, production, printing and delivering.
Employing people to do all of those jobs means paying wages and benefits that ultimately filter back into the community. That means your local newspaper is part of the lifestream that keeps your community vital and growing. It also means the newspaper, like most of its advertisers, is a business — and unapologetically so.
Newspapers are historically terrible at promoting themselves, and many — in particular the large dailies — were unprepared for the competition for national news that the Internet unleashed. Even then, the big daily newspapers produced the same content that people saw on TV and heard on the radio. Their fight was much tougher.
By staying local and adhering to key journalistic ethics and standards, I’ve always believed good community newspapers could weather the biggest grenades that the Internet could lob at them and come out stronger in the end.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Patch’s unraveling has everything to do with the endurance, viability and determination of the very newspaper you’re holding in your hands.