The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Patching hyper-local news coverage with

December 17, 2010 |  3:35 pm

It's popular among some journalists to loathe AOL's huge and mushrooming entry into local journalism, Patch doesn't pay enough, with freelance fees of $50 per 500 words the standard. It works its local editors very, very hard.

My Saturday column has a longer look at how Patch has brought on a number of veteran journalists to help run its sites in Los Angeles.

The LA Weekly has a much more negative view of the Patch sites, now in more than 600 communities nationally and more than 100 in California. The Weekly has suggested the Patch sites could be a mortal threat to "mom and pop" news sites.

I don't see it that way. Just as community and regional newspapers thrived despite competition from big metropolitan dailies, quality community news sites will find a way to survive.

Both the big boys and small independents face the same challenge -- how to dredge up enough advertising to sustain news gathering on the local level. Only a few local news outfits have solved that equation.

One that's often cited as a success story is the West Seattle Blog in the state of Washington, where editor-publisher Tracy Record and her co-publisher/husband Patrick Sand reportedly have been able to make a six-figure income. But Record and Sand notoriously rise at any and all hours to cover news in their neighborhood. And they benefit from being in a good-sized, tech-savvy community that has deep, deep Internet penetration.

Given the financial challenges everyone in the news business faces, it's hard to understand why anyone would find fault with AOL for making a gigantic investment in hyper-local coverage. Its start-up spending on the hundreds of Patch sites has been pegged at $50 million.

In my town, South Pasadena, I get a daily Patch update via e-mail. There's not a lot of blockbuster news in there. But it gives me at least an outline of some local happenings. I'm more likely to find results, and lots of pictures, from South Pasadena High School sports events on Patch than at the website run by the local weekly or the one run by the Pasadena Star-News.

If you can give readers their local sports scores and lots of photo galleries, where they can see their kids and their kids' friends, they will come back again and again.

-- James Rainey