Advice for Patch’s New Content Chief | Street Fight

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Advice for Patch’s New Content Chief

10 Comments 10 February 2012 by

Hi, Rachel:

We haven’t spoken since high school years, I think. Always funny to see people we knew way-back-when rising to positions of prominence. Congratulations on your new position as the Chief Content Officer at Patch.com. No doubt, you have your work cut out for you.

You may or may not know that I have been sometimes critical of Patch in the past. And in my own community, I have found Patch to be not terribly stimulating or useful (although my mother-in-law reads it for classifieds). I get it in my inbox. It rarely contains news I care about. The sports coverage is thin. There is almost no feature coverage of local events. Political coverage is scant to non-existent. A lot of the coverage is pointing to news stories in other outlets and reblogging. The blogs have too many realtors and are not really about local things — they are more like diaries. Well, you get my drift.

So in the old Charm City spirit, I’d like to offer up some advice on making Patch a truly vibrant hyperlocal news organization and not just a way to try to shake ads out of local merchants. Take it with a grain of salt and I do not pretend to be more qualified than you. But here goes. So you remember the Baltimore Messenger? I do. I read it religiously for the local sports coverage. Every high school game got a blurb. We read about our friends each week. Now that I am a little league and soccer dad, I trade scuttlebutt with other dads about team performance and which players are good. It’s fun. The games are an incredibly unifying event in our community, bringing together families on weekends and during practices. Picnics and parties, beach chairs and blankets and lots of smiles. There’s no place to read about that online. Why not? I don’t know. I certainly would like to. So my first piece of advice. Patch should dominate local sports. And I mean DOMINATE. Not just high school but also kids leagues and junior leagues.

The beautiful thing is, Patch can easily pay for the tools to do this. As my readers know, I am a big fan of Narrative Science, the company that has built sophisticated computer algorithms to take structure information (like, say, box scores or any manner of score keeping) and turn it into relatively digestible prose. Then you have applications like Meporter and Tackable that can allow anyone with a smartphone to morph into a beat reporter and grab stills and videos. Then there are smartphone-based stats collection tools for sports like Statzpack.

If Patch can create an easy way for communities to report on sports events — with minimal or no effort — and then serve up that content in a relatively readable format, the upside would be huge. Why not have a Patch iPhone app that allows any parent to upload a sports video or an event video to Patch.com editors for consideration? The existing Patch app is really nothing but a reskinned version of the Website. There are minimal opportunities to report or interact with others. While news consumption is important, as everyone knows, consumption, creation and curation in a community or shared format are what drove Facebook to prominence. Rachel, you have a wonderful chance here to drag Patch out of the Web 1.0 Era and sports is a great place to start. What do you think?

Here’s another way I would jumpstart Patch. There is a great mobile application you have probably seen. It’s called Foodspotting. I love it. It’s almost like a Foursquare for specific dishes at restaurants. You take a picture, upload it to Foodspotting, and add a few comments. No negative reviews allowed – which is fine in sensitive local communities. Why would this be useful for Patch? Because food is life and in small towns, what people are eating is gold. Pure gold. If Patch white-labeled Foodspotting, and, say allowed people to upload images of their dinner parties. How cool would that be? Keeping up with the Jones has always been a key sport in towns. So make it super easy to do this – and you can do it with existing technology! Pull in that photostream, watch the mouths water, see traffic soar. Foodspotting has clocked insane growth. And food, frankly, at the core, is as hyperlocal as you can get.

Let’s move on to the politics phase. Politics are harder. Real reporting, real local knowledge. Without an institutional memory, you are sunk. No real human reporter worth their salt will stick around for seriously sub-par pay (let’s be honest -— I know some former Patch editors and the pay was abysmal). So here’s what I would do. Consolidate political coverage. Use video feeds as much as possible to pull in City Council action and Boards. Make the nuts and bolts coverage easier to accomplish. Then jack the pay and ask one talented political reporter to contribute mightily. Have one Patch reporter for three towns. Pay them over $100,000 a year. You would be amazed at what might happen. The most talented bloggers and writers today are turning out more than 3000 words every 24 hours. They are often breaking news. They report differently — the long form narrative survives but it lives alongside the short-form rapid fire blogging. This….is…exactly….what…Patch…needs. Blah political stories are horrible. Make them short. Great political coverage is riveting. But you have to know who’s on first – and the best guys at that will come more dear than the usual Patch salary.

Oh, one last thing I would do. Get rid of your middle management layer. All of it. I understand they are good people, probably talented editors. They’ll be okay. But hyperlocal works best in conditions of hyper-autonomy, without an overseer and a style enforcer. Patch will not be perfect and it will not be uniform but it will be real and meaningful, a reflection of the heart and soul of the people who create it rather than a reflection of a big corporation.

I could probably rattle on for quite a bit on these topics. I am a firm believer in the critical importance of hyperlocal coverage. Without sunshine, rot sets in. Every community needs a real media outlet to inform, delight, and and shine a light on the misdeeds or celebrate the victories and the heart-warming tales that pull at our tear-ducts. Good luck and break some eggs.

Alex Salkever’s Personal Fight column appears every Friday on Street Fight.

  • http://twitter.com/kevinGEEdavis Kevin Davis

    Great

  • Anonymous

    Aye, aye Alex.  Great points about the lack of worthwhile content.  The pilot site for our high school sports CMS — http://www.sportsink.com — is exactly the model I have pitched to Patch.   It covers 46 high school communities with one site and has overshadowed all other local media coverage with its breadth and comprehensiveness.   Patch covered high school sports for a nanosecond in our area and has been haphazard about it since.   Without content, you’ve got nothing.

  • RichardDonaldJones

    Like the overall message but there are some points that seem to be far fetched. 100k for a political reporter ? Where is the revenue going to come from? For all the talk about Politico and it massive output the money is made from its print product. Even at three thousand words a day ( much of that is opinion and speculation) there are only so many auto dealers, plumbers and window makers to go around.

  • vilmawriter

    I freelanced for my local Patch site for nearly two years. I think you make some valid points. My town lives and breathes school sports and I thought it was a bad move to end coverage. I know it was a business decision. I do think it’s encouraging that a new Content Editor is on board. To truly put out a quality local product and to save the masses from press release boredom ‘a la local newspapers” each site has to know their town. It’s important for each Patch to have a personality and offer up a more modern approach to local news. 

  • Dlopriore

    Alex — great advice — I’m  a sports editor for Main Street Connect in Conn, NY and Mass. — building a recreation and other local sports base as you describe…

  • http://twitter.com/Statzpack Statzpack

    Hey Alex & Co.  Thanks for the mention of Statzpack.  Many of our user, who are a mixture of coaches and parents use Statzpack to help them produce content for school/local websites.  One of its features, Gameshare, produces a one page game report, which can then be shared, or embedded on to other websites – excellent for local newspapers. All available and ready seconds after the game is over.

    Find out more about this feature here:  http://www.statzpack.com/blog/soccer/football-soccer-2/want-to-share-communicate-upload-and-distribute-your-game-stats.html

    If anyone wants any more info be sure to contact us at info@statzpack.com .

  • Anonymous

    Hi Alex,

    What you’re suggesting is really like 3 separate products: local sports, local food, and local politics. Skeptical that there are big enough synergies to be had in aggregating all of this in one place. In the days of print media it made sense, but things are different now in a digital world when other sites/apps are a few clicks away.  It would need to be better than all of the alternatives that focus, focus, focus on just one area, such as your example of Foodspotting.  

    I think Patch’s main problem is a lack of focus.  It needs to do one thing really well (as you say “dominate”) and be the place to go for that info.  There’re just too many alternatives out there to try to win in every content category.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alex-Salkever/503373859 Alex Salkever

    Hi, all: Thanks for the feedback. So, a couple of quick points. I actually think these three suggestions hang together – because they are basically the most popular sections of legacy local papers. The question is, how to bring them into the modern Facebook Era economically. Second, $100k for a political reporter – here’s the math. They are paying editors something like $35k. Those editors probably spend as much time on political coverage as just about everything else because it is time consuming, although it gets more efficient as you gain institutional knowledge. The question is, could hiring a really good individual make it sticky enough to really drive repeat visitors? I am betting, based on the fact that the three-dot columnists drove so much interest in papers, that this would drive sufficient stickiness. But in the grand scheme of things, considering the $150 million burn, its not that much money. 850 divided by 3 = 216. 216 x $100k = $21 million. Right now, Patch is spending significantly more than that on salaries between Patch editors and middle management, I would venture. So just move the numbers around.. Or even make it four towns. A rock-solid eager political reporter could make that work. 

  • talkin’ sense

    Classic soccer dad wanting coverage of his 7-year-old’s game. The thing about local sports below the high school level is that no one, not even the players themselves, care about the outcome except the parents of those players. Ever been at one of those games? There is not one ‘fan’ there besides the parents and if you open that segment of sports to coverage by a professional journalist, only those “too involved” parents would read it and the half whose kids were not mentioned would be angry that their Little Johnny was not given his due.

    Youth sports are no place for journalism. It should be about kids playing a game, but this guy wants Patch to “dominate” coverage of his son and his friends. Get a life pal and join a beer league.

  • Dlopriore

    I know for a fact that 10-year-old Little Leaguers enjoy seeing their team picture and results of their games on line…. so do the parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and other teams and coaches…. the coverage houd be psoitive, uplifting and not ESPN-ish

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