Patch Redesign Emphasizes Social as Path to Revenue Growth | Street Fight

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Patch Redesign Emphasizes Social as Path to Revenue Growth

13 Comments 23 September 2012 by

AOL’s hyperlocal news network Patch released a major redesign Sunday evening, pushing the platform away from a traditional editorial news property and into a more social, user-driven service. The move marks the beginning of what AOL CEO Tim Armstrong called “phase two” in the company’s evolution as it looks to establish a place in the market as a local utility with news as one spoke of the wheel. The redesign, which initially is only being pushed to five Long Island sites, will be rolled out to 50 sites by the end of the year and the remaining 800 plus Patches by the end of the Q1 2013.

Part of finding that sweet spot is managing the massive editorial costs associated with a standard one-to-many news model and, with the new redesign, Patch has made its clearest statement yet on how it plans to redefine content production, and implicitly the role of the editor, in local media.

At the heart of Patch 2.0 are Groups: subject-specific feeds, through which users and editors can share information about a topic. It’s newspaper sections reimagined with a symmetrical, and vastly more open content structure. The flagship Groups — sports, crime, business etc. — are still largely managed by editors and updated with content from Patch staffers. But it’s the crowd, and particularly the “power crowd,” so to speak, that the company hopes will add value in the same way that power users have allowed Yelp and Foursquare to scale so quickly.

“When you live in a town, news is almost on a continuum,” Rachel Feddersen, Chief Content Officer at Patch, told Street Fight in an interview, “There’s hard news — journalism with a capital “J” that only an editor can create. Then there is news that is ‘news to you’ because your child’s soccer practice has changed fields. These are all pieces of information that change where you physically go throughout your day and are super-important to your daily life.”

It’s the news long tail — small, actionable bits of hyper-personalized information with a short life span — which Patch is going after with its new content system. With Twitter still somewhat aloof in its local ambitions, the market for time-sensitive short-form information remains underserved, and it’s a segment in which user-generated systems work well. The question for Patch is whether it can leverage the crowd selectively without compromising the value and integrity of its costly journalistic content.

While the new product highlights contributions from Patch staffers with a logo attached to each post, there’s little differentiation as far as the type of content that can be created. Fedderson says that the structure of how users follow, invite, and participate in groups will likely weed out the outliers from sabotaging the content. However, the redesign lacks the more nuanced filters and verification systems needed when managing more complex, and open forms of information than a directory listing or restaurant review.

But for Patch, the social push is as much about setting the stage for new revenue opportunities as it is about scaling back editorial costs. Yes, editorial costs are a concern, but it’s the shrinking margins afforded by unidirectional advertising that present the most foreboding existential issues for Patch’s model.  User content means user engagement, and with engagement come opportunities to build more interactive marketing and commerce products, netting larger margins.

“We really believe that this platform will rise all boats,” Jon Brod, Patch’s CEO and co-founder, told Street Fight in an interview.  “What were seeing is this evolution and convergence of capital ‘J’ journalism with the benefits of a social platform for a marketing solution.”

Brod says that the emphasis on groups may also strengthen the company’s connection with small businesses: “It will lead itself naturally to some additional commerce opportunities, which we’re not ready announce but will certainly be rolling out where the platform affords us,” he said.

The success of those forthcoming commerce opportunities, and the company’s financial health, rests heavily on the redesign, and the ability for Patch to shift from neighborhood news site to local utility. It’s the fragile business of fostering a climate of content creation, not only consumption, that poses the most acute challenge for the traditionally editorial-focused company, and may require more time, and space, than AOL’s already-massive investment will afford.

Steven Jacobs is deputy editor at Street Fight.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michaelmshapiro Michael Shapiro

    This is AOL’s last gasp for Patch. In its latest attempt to devalue original news content, it now becomes the place for every Tom, Dick and Harry to spout their version of “news” with little editorial check on the motives and agendas of those providing this “news.” Any journalistic integrity Patch maintained up until now is being thrown out with the bathwater as is Patch’s original baby: to provide the highest quality, objective hyperlocal news by professional reporters.

    AOL still doesn’t get it. Hyperlocal does best when done by locals for locals. Here at TheAlternativePress.com, we now have 18 centrally located local sites, 9 of which are licensed to journalists who have started TheAlternativePress.com for their own town in just the last six months.

    To all the Patch editors out there, there is a better way…

    • Patch reader

      So a competitor doesn’t like Patch? How amusing! You know, I’m a journalist and a regular Patch reader (of Boston area sites). Please read what was said above. Journalists are still producing news, albeit with more opportunities for readers to interact. The disdain that so many old-media types have for their readers — and god forbid, their readers CONTRIBUTING — is part of the reason that newspapers are in the situation that they are in.

      • L Hanson

        The Boston Patch sites have been a complete disaster … huge turnover of editors that often don’t live in Boston. The new design looks colorful, but will likely turn into a cesspool of promotional crud.

      • UTMF

        Thank-you.

      • http://www.facebook.com/michaelmshapiro Michael Shapiro

        “Patch Reader”…aka Patch employee: you can tell I’m definitely an old-media type. On TheAlternativePress.com, readers can write columns, letters to the editor, put up press releases, business listings and event listings. Your comment proves my point – – you could have posted your comment as a “news” story on the “new” Patch – – totally devoid of fact submitted anonymously by someone who goes out of their way to not want to have their identity known.

      • Inkspots

        I’m not an “old-media type,” but I can tell you from firsthand experience that those journalists who are still “producing news” at Patch — or trying to — are beyond exhausted. At this point, they are not willing to drink the Kool-Aid anymore.

    • UTMF

      Where do I get a journalist’s license? Is that like a pilot’s license?

  • UTMF

    Take a pill and chill dude.

  • ultrallusions

    The new Patch is more ridiculous than the old patch. Any way you polish a turd, it’s still a turd. And this is further proof that you can sell aforementioned turd. Yeech!

  • Patcher Please

    The first couple graphs in this post read like Patch marketing material with all this talk of managing editorial costs, “redefining content production” and veering away from being “a traditional editorial news property.”

    Don’t cover up for Patch, Streetfight. The company is softening the blow for post-election layoffs, which is exactly what many analysts have predicted for a long time now. You are talking about mass layoffs, not marketing buzzwords.

    This move is very similar to previous Patch efforts, which boils down to copying the national strategy of a successful competitor and pray it works on the local level. It didn’t work with aggregation, because there’s not enough content to aggregate at the local level. It didn’t work with cloning coupon sites, it didn’t work with appealing to the mommy demographic, and it sure as hell won’t work by trying to copy Reddit and co., because again, that doesn’t work at the local level.

    By de-emphasizing the local editors — which, by the way, goes against everything Patch has preached in three years of existence — the company is hoping readers won’t notice when those local editors disappear. Already, you can see Patch regions are in a hiring freeze because many editor positions have gone unfilled for months.

    Another thing the author forgot to mention — Patch did not roll out this redesign network-wide, it rolled out on five (5) Long Island sites to test the redesign first. A major piece of information to withhold from your readers, yeah?

    This post is awful. This is what happens when someone who knows nothing about news interviews two Patch executives who know nothing about news.

    Put on your skeptic hats and stop regurgitating Patch’s marketing speak. And wait until some time after Nov. 7 for an announcement about mass layoffs at Patch, once again couched in absurd marketing language.

    • Insider

      I totally agree with your assessment. I have suspected for some time that there will be major cuts following the election. Most sites have long since lost their entire freelance budgets and, in my region, some local editors are now editing two separate Patch sites. They also have abandoned the highly touted requirement that editors live in the town they cover. Let’s face it: You don’t need a journalist to manage a Patch 2.0 site–in fact, those professional skills are of little use if there’s no particular emphasis on news. But then, Patch HQ has never been heavy on journalism. .

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tran-Longmoore/1013819521 Tran Longmoore

    The only thing Patch is redefining is Patch, and it’s not doing a very good job of it.

  • http://twitter.com/whatburnsbacon What Burns My Bacon

    As a former Patch editor I’m not thrilled with this redesign. I know this is something that Patch has always wanted, to be a social media site, but it first established itself as a hyper-local news website and that worked out well for nearly three years.

    Taking such a turn away from what people have enjoyed is not a very smart move.

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