Patching Up The Unpatchable: The Rise and Fall of Corporate Hyper-Local News

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IMG_0493A quaint and simple notion still exists throughout America, that if children ran the government instead of adults, many of the modern-day issues associated with government leaders would disappear overnight, creating a utopian environment in which the country could finally thrive on for generations to come.

This of course begs the question of why?  Are children smarter than adults; adults who seemingly are more qualified than the average adult, adults who are well-educated, accomplished, and elected into positions of power over the masses?

The basic assumption is that children are inherently honest, unflappable and possess the ability to want for a greater good and not just for themselves.

These character traits among others, would have served the leaders of AOL and Patch tremendously well in the five-year run of what was considered upon its conception, as the most cutting edge and game-changing idea in the 21st Century of journalism.

Imagine this…your town, village, hamlet or city has a news website where you can find breaking news, current events, a calendar of events, business listings and perhaps most importantly, a spotlight on the everyday local things that matter to you.

You could come to your local Patch site and see your friends, your friend’s child, your own child, your teacher from 25 years ago.

If you have moved away or were retired, you can keep tabs on the daily happenings of your hometown, regaled and in some cases entranced, by thephoewrw3rto images of snowstorms you no longer had to deal with, summer scenes you longed for in your heart and familiar places and faces of a community you spent time in, raising a family and having a life.

Patch’s reach into the local community was never just local, thanks in large part to the projective power of social media and Patch’s ability to garner people and ideas from across the country to create a self-contained ecosystem of local content with far-reaching appeal.

Having spent over 2 years in “Patchlandia” as the locals call it, I spent my first year as a freelance writer, helping launch the New Rochelle Patch site in August of 2010 and then over time, contributing to 10 different Patch sites on a semi-regular basis.

Using my abilities as a writer and my photographic eye, I learned how to combine those two things into becoming a professional online journalist, a title I became quite proud of but in the end, never truly fit what my true passions were to be in life.

In October of 2011, I took over the Bronxville-Eastchester Patch site as Editor, well “guest editor” since it took AOL 6 months to sign me on officially but either way, I took ownership of the site immediately and enjoyed getting to know the communities in which I was tasked to objectively cover the news and everyday happenings in for Tuckahoe, Eastchester and Bronxville, with Yonkers thrown into the mix at times.

5c7a25388b103d5ff621e9e629d753d8Looking back, I certainly was a little fish in a large pond of consummate professional journalist who not only were more talented than I was, but understood their roles in their respective communities much more than I ever did.

At the time however, I did the best I could, I worked late just like they did, I hustled just like they did and I did my best to showcase the communities on my Patch site in a way that created a compulsion for people to make the Bronxville-Eastchester Patch a part of their daily lives.

In the end however, my co-workers were often head and shoulders above me when it came to reporting the news, getting the facts and putting information out into the community in a timely fashion.  This is not to say that I never did this, but more often than not, my information had holes in it or in some cases, was way off base and prompted a revision.

By November of 2012, I knew that my time with Patch was nearing its end, the flame of passion for what I was doing was shrinking by the day and it not only would manifest itself in the content on the site, but in the interactions with my co-workers, many of which I had written for as a freelancer two years earlier.

Only in hindsight would I realize all of the amazing lessons I gained working with Patch, working with a group of people who cared deeply about what they were doing, wanted to get it right and whose passion never seemed to wane, even on the busiest of days and or the longest of nights.

In my mind, these were all the over-achievers I went to high school with.  The ones who always got the A’s, always had their assignments in on time, never had compulsive problems such as cutting class and always found a way to “show up” no matter what.  Surely the antithesis of everything my high school days were.

I did manage though to have fun and get a few things right in my time with Patch, like the time I showed up to Main Street Pediatric Dentistry in Tuckahoe to cover an event and found two gals making balloon animals, in which I promptly requested that they make me a Patch balloon logo.

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Or the time the Patch RV…a news headquarters on wheels rolled into New Rochelle as part of a campaign to cover the 2012 Presidential election Primaries.  Posing with one of my many mentors Michael Woyton, editor extraordinaire of the New Rochelle Patch.

This guy single-handedly gave me a 4-year education in journalism in less than 6 months and while I do think some of my antics may have taken a few years off of his life, it was his professionalism and vast understanding of how to communicate with people and tell a story that I’ll always take with me for the rest of my professional career.

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In the end of course, it was the residents themselves, the readership of Patch that made my time as a journalist the most rewarding and fulfilling.  Whether I literally was tasked with writing down people’s thoughts and reactions to daily life, or as I much more preferred to do, capturing the daily dramas unfold through photo journalism in the idyllic suburban sprawl that is Westchester County NY.

Scenes like this one from Bronxville on a Sunday morning made working on a Sunday, a treat.

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Capturing the rush of rush hour…

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A man taking in the warmth of a winter day…

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Perfectly laid leaves on a busy street…

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Children doing what children do…

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Or…the Kardashians appearing at the mall you grew up across the street from…

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IMG_0037No two days were alike at Patch and I guess that’s the crux of journalism.  Over time however, the mood at Patch changed and not for the better in my opinion.  That cutesy notion I laid out earlier in this article, about the news website that would give almost any resident of the community a viable reason to visit the site on a daily basis…well yea that notion all but died.

Doing what corporations do best, shareholders and profit margins began to take precedent over the customer base and in the end, the customers went elsewhere for their news and information.  A defiant declaration of the indispensability of modern-day digital media,

Patch readers quickly decided that if they could no longer get relevant information about their community through Patch, they would simply resume their perpetual search for local news elsewhere.

My former Regional Editor said it best to me in one of our many heart-felt conversations we had while he attempted to mold me into a budding journalist during my time as Editor.

“People should find things on Patch that they themselves just saw that day and wondered about,” Bill would say, continuing that, “Patch has the capability to make readers feel as if we are everywhere by utilizing our resources and giving the appearance that we are always the first ones on top of a story.”

Of all the people I worked with, Bill’s passion for informing the community and establishing Patch as the official place for all news and information OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthat people not only wanted to know, but needed to know was inspiring to say the least.

Of all the thousands of people Patch employed, Bill perhaps saw with greater clarity than anyone else the potential and place that Patch could have in the lives of its community.

After all that was why it was called Patch, the company was envisioned as a community’s own “patch” of news and information that would exclusively cater to their needs and their needs only.  Need info on White Plains, go to the White Plains Patch.  What’s happening in Rye this weekend?  Go to the Rye Patch. So on and so forth.

And now with the latest round of layoff’s, which are slated to cut the company easily by a third in terms of its work force and the very Patch sites that drive profits in the first place, the dream of Patch and all that it could have been, seemingly is dead.

I guess this post was somewhat of an obituary to a lost dream of Corporate Hyper-Local News and how the best laid plans went sour.  I have no doubt that when AOL CEO Tim Armstrong was driving in his town in Connecticut one Saturday afternoon and wished his town had a place to go for local news so that the community could be more informed and connected that his intentions were good.

This is the story of how Patch was conceived in a nutshell.  A member of a community realizing the void and need of its people.  So for that, I guess I do need to tip my hat to him and say thanks for what started as an innocent notion in his head and manifested into an opportunity for me to gain professional experience and further accentuate my talents and abilities.

By the way, there is a Yonkers version…a knock off version of Patch that does attempt to cover things that people in Yonkers should know and need to know about their daily lives.  The name escapes me though at the moment…gosh darn it the heck, what is that fancy semi-news website called…

—Josh

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3 thoughts on “Patching Up The Unpatchable: The Rise and Fall of Corporate Hyper-Local News

  1. First of all, please see that the name PATCH is changed to reflect what it purports to do and to be: PATCH PRESS, as in United Press or Associated Press … get it? Can’t tell you the number of awkward glances I would receive when I would say I represent PATCH. Patch what, they would reply; or Patch? what’s that. At least with Patch Press, it takes them in the right direction.

    • Hey Marc, I hear ya, many people thought I worked for a landscaping company. I think at this point, given all the negative press and other factors, people know what “Patch” is or “the patch”

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