Patch’s Main Problem? Paltry Pay

When I was working at AOL a few years back, the recruiter for came through the West Coast offices and I spoke to her a bit about building out the fast-growing hyperlocal news blog company that is something of a bet-the-future venture for AOL chief Tim Armstrong and company (along with HuffPo). The recruiter was very nice and gave me the pitch so I could pass on to friends. Included in the pitch was a plug for the compensation: Top regional editors were going to make $70k or so. Local Patch bloggers would make a whole lot less. This seemed like a great wage – for North Dakota. In the Bay Area? $70k is just above entry level for lots of tech sector jobs. Which led me to wonder, would Patch be able to pull in quality people to make the network worthwhile?

It’s a question I increasingly wonder about. One of my friends is about to bail on a editor job. He’s a crackerjack editor and writer, and he is actually breaking news and beating out bigger metro dailes. So why would he want to leave? Because he has a family. He needs more money. Also, he doesn’t like the bureaucracy.

As the economy picks up in many of Patch’s target markets (mostly high income demographics, natch), will the company be able to keep talent? And if they can’t, will turnover cripple the capability of Patch to do real journalism rather than mere sports reporting and updates on the police blotter (both of which are already semi-commodity items)?

As the economy picks up in many of Patch’s target markets, will the company be able to keep talent?

I really do respect anyone who decides to be a Patch editor — I have lived that life, albeit in a different era. My first job out of college was as a reporter for the Carpinteria Herald, a tiny weekly just south of Santa Barbara. Actually, it was more like I was the only reporter for the Herald. I was responsible for five or six stories per week, including, ideally, two or three that required real reporting beyond single-source interviews. What I quickly realized is that institutional knowledge is the lifeblood of good hyper-local reporting. I also realized I was going broke earning $12,000 per year (the going wage in my wasted youth). And so I lasted exactly eight months in that job. When I left, all the knowledge that I had accumulated went with me.

So it may go for Patch. In a local community, the editor truly is the face of the paper and small business advertising is highly relationship based. Main Street ties trump everything else. On a more personal note, I enjoy my current blog for updates on my neighborhood but really don’t rely on it for journalism. A 24/7 journalism job with a small paycheck simply doesn’t leave much room for serious issues coverage that would educate me to the level of detail I would find useful. Maybe some hyperlocal blog network will crack this nut. Maybe Patch will. And certainly the local news void grows wider with each passing year for most communities.

Alex Salkever’s Personal Fight column appears every Friday.

  1. Markjmayhew
    June 10, 2011

    $70k, hell $50K, is a lot of money in New Orleans, they won’t have any problem here.

  2. PSteam
    June 10, 2011

     Patch has been up and running for about a year in my region, and we’ve already seen some serious churn among the original town sites here. All have been replaced by recent college grads.

  3. June 10, 2011

    I work in local television news in a top-30 market and I know people who have worked here for 20+ years that don’t make $70K! Regional editors for Patch might make that much, but it’s my understanding that the local editors for each town make somewhere around $40K…, and even at $40K, that’s STILL more than people who have worked with me for years make here at the tv station.

  4. June 10, 2011

    The biggest mistake Patch has made is not officially allowing its Local Editors to freelance elsewhere (some still do). Chris is also correct – LE yearly pay is high 30s, low 40s (plus great health benefits, and occasional company-wide bonuses if targets hit).

  5. June 10, 2011

    Patch is news, not tech. I doubt there are many entry-level and 3-6 year experienced writers getting 70k. When you guys are going to make a point, please don’t exaggerate reality to make it. I am not even going to read the rest of this because you are full of BS. Entry level journos are not making 70k in San Fran. Period. I bet there are quite a few San Fran Chron writers not making 70k. And you know it.

    Tech jobs? Nice try

    1. Susan
      June 11, 2011

      You seem grumpy. Yes, he was comparing apples to oranges with the tech starting wage point. But I mean, read the rest of the article. It’s hardly invalidated by one poor analogy.

  6. June 11, 2011

    The question of whether pay is sufficient or not depends upon several factors, including the local cost of living and the overall economy (affecting the unemployment rate). Where the unemployment rate is high, more and more people will work for less money, balanced against the cost of living. You can’t say $70,000 is an insufficient wage to someone with the requisite skills and without a job, even in a high cost of living location. People flow to new jobs and money to support themselves and family, taking into consideration their expenses and savings. Economics.

  7. guest
    June 17, 2011

    I wonder 

  8. jluxorinc
    June 17, 2011

    You’re missing a point. More than the money it’s the work load, metrics-watching, intense stress of being a Patch local editor that makes the job untenable. You said 6 or 7 stories a week when in Carpenteria? Patch editors need to meet that post daily. They write, report, edit, manage and bookkeep freelancers, market their site in the community, shoot video and pictures — on a 24/7 cycle with management breathing down their necks, asking for more, announcing new “initiatives” (think: new gimmicks to get on the site).  On top of this media pundits like you view local news editing as “cub” work, a first job out of college, cute and lowly, “Ah yes, I did that years ago, I can relate.”  Patronizing. I’ve done high end national reporting, and hyperlocal. There isn’t a difference when it comes to doing good journalism.

  9. cmp
    June 20, 2011

    Just confiming that local editors start at 35K.  Which may be ok for some areas where the cost of living isn’t very high.  But for places that are expensive…I don’t see how one could make it work. 

    Regional editors have to have about 6+ years of editing experience, I believe.  Definitly not entry-level.

  10. Lucinda
    June 26, 2011

    Another point: If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Those of us who freelance as reporters or columnists for our local Patch sites are paid a mere $25 -$50 per story or column — and that includes several photographs as well as the story. When I started writing for my local daily 25 years ago, I was paid $75 per feature or column, bottom, and got an extra $25 per photo published with the piece.

    I don’t know how Patch can keep a stable of good writers at such piddly rates. I have decided to contribute an occasional piece for $50, if I am desperate, but cannot afford to spend my time writing regularly for such a small wage.

  11. Midwestern sweety
    May 18, 2013

    I just found this thread. Patch editors make 40k per year. I’ll take it! I worked as an editor for one of their competitors at a weekly newspaper. My salary was $38k per year BEFORE cuts. Then it was $32. Oh, and our 5-year reporters at the paper? They took pay cuts from $20K per year to $18k. For full time. You can live on 40K, you can’t live on $18k.

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