In the months since AOL bought The Huffington Post, the company’s execs have talked a number of times about plans to incorporate coverage from Patch’s network of hyperlocal sites into HuffPo’s national report. Arianna Huffington herself said she expects Patch will be a key element of HuffPo’s coverage of the 2012 presidential election, and Patch local reports from California were recently used in stories about the Japanese tsunami.
But last night we really saw that collaboration in action, as HuffPo drew on Patch’s network to flesh out out its coverage with hyperlocal reactions from around the country to the death of Osama bin Laden. In the process, it perhaps showed how a scaled network of hyperlocals can mimic an old-fashioned wire service in the midst of major news stories, with reports from all over feeding the mothership.
At 10:33 last night, soon after it was announced that President Obama would address the nation, an email went out from Patch’s regional editorial directors to local editors saying, “Be prepared to localize this story.”
Patch editor-in-chief Brian Farnham, who was up through the night coordinating coverage with his editorial chief-of-staff Rachel Rique, said that the story was a perfect opportunity to try out this process: “This was a huge historic story, and it certainly had tons of local angles to it,” he said. “We’ve been integrating quite a bit, but this just made sense to do a bit more on.”
“In our day to day, Patch is head-down focused on local. But when there’s a huge story like this, we can serve two masters,” said Farnham.
Farnham said that there was some high-level direction of the coverage, with 20 editors between Huffington Post and Patch firing emails back and forth throughout the night to keep each other updated about what information had come in. But he said that many of Patch’s stories arose organically, as editors naturally went after the local story angles that made sense: “Largely, the editors in their markets know what they’re looking for,” he said. “Obviously in Dearborn, there’s a large Muslim community there. And if you’ve got military people in town you just naturally think of that.”
The resulting coverage — some of which was collected in a story on HuffPo’s homepage by national reporter Safi Knafo — included photos from a celebration in Dearborn, Mich.; video reactions from patrons and workers in a Dunkin Donuts in Morris Township, N.J.; quotes from military wives in Bradenton, Fla.; and a reaction from a New York City firefighter from the Bed-Stuy Patch.
“It was thrilling to see how quickly our national reporting team collaborated with Patch to cover the story at the local as well as national level,” Arianna Huffington told us via email. “Our liveblog included reaction to the news from various Patches around the country, and, using Patch reports, we were able to capture the nationwide response — from somber reactions to eruptions of joy in cities across America.”
So does this approach mean that Patch’s sites now function as local news bureaus for HuffPo? Sort of, according to Farnham: “In our day to day, Patch is head-down focused on local. But when there’s a huge story like this, we can serve two masters.”