Patch’s Main Problem? Paltry Pay

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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.