by Kyle Swenson
Bloggers of the world, pull out your headphones and listen up: stop emoting about the Royal Wedding. That post on Foucault and Danger Mouse? Junk it. All the possible jokes about Rebecca Black have been made and beaten to death; quit trying to cook up a new one. It may be time finally to get out of mom’s basement, to stop [insert staletoast blogger cliché here].
It may be time to go corporate: Patch is looking for a few good keyboard pounders who can grind out a word count.
According to Forbes, AOL’s hyperlocal news network — which has a considerable footprint here in Northeast Ohio — has been trying to sign up 8,000 bloggers over the last week. Each site editor is tasked to have five to ten bloggers on board when Patch rolls out a new blogging platform on May 4th. The move is a shift in direction for the web site, which so far has had a slow-growth business plan. But as of late, much has changed in the Patchosphere.
About a month back, we heard rumors that the Patch was shedding freelancers. We beamed enquirers up the food chain and got return postage from NYC that nope, Patch isn’t getting rid of freelances, and we’ve been fielding a lot of those kind of questions lately.
We were happy with this news, nobody wants to hear about more journalists losing a paycheck and having to take shifts at the local Starbucks. Been there. Done that.
But the chatter about a freelance body count is probably tied to the fact that a lot of question marks are hooked into AOL these days, especially after everyone’s first dial-up provider inked a deal with HuffPo’s eponym, the mistress of the click-count herself, Arianna Huffington.
Following the $315 million marriage between HuffPo and AOL, Huffington is now the content czar of all the products. Since then, AOL (not Patch) has publicly parted ways with freelancers. Also, along with the Huffington Post (but again, not Patch) they’re being sued by former freelancers who say they’ve been “mistreated” on a class-action scale. The company has dismissed the charges contained in the suit and publicly said they’d rather hire full-time staffers than use freelancers moving forward.
Huffington made comments along those lines regarding Patch in an early April interview with Bloomberg — albeit confused comments. The goal is to kick-up content quantity on Patch’s sites, she said, and the network could hire a new staffer for each site, possibly a surge of around 800 new positions. “Each site will now have its own team,” she said at the time. But only days after that interview, Forbes reported Patch editors were informed “Huffington’s comment should not be taken to mean that each site would be adding a second editor, merely that an as-yet-unknown number of editors will be hired at some point.”
This is all prologue to the current push; having a stable of bloggers on each Patch turf would increase the content amount (and therefore page views — the equation is simple, more to click through, more clicks. If you post it, they will click), but it is a slight adjustment to the hyper-local news mantra the outfit started out singing. And Patch brass seem both conscious and primed for push-back from the site editors about the course change.
According to Forbes, Patch editor in chief Brian Farnham sent out the following marching orders:
“The introduction of blogging on our sites is far more than just the release of a new feature,” wrote Farnham. “It is a full-on course correction heading Patch in the direction we want to go.
“As for the question of why we are moving this fast after the go-slow approach presented on Friday, let me address that here: we’re a startup . . . You’ve heard that before and it’s going to remain true for some time. You all signed on knowing this was a young company, and while no one likes a fire drill, at the same time you have to get used to changes and moving fast if you want to be a Patch editor.”
“Full-on course correction”? That last word there signifies a mistake that needs mending, as if Han Solo steered the Millennium Falcon into a patch of asteroids, or a bartender brings you a Mai Tai, when you and your boozed-addled brain just couldn't remember if its "High Life" or "Life High" again. Course correction.
Will AOL's hyperlocal news outfit look more like the Huffington Post after May 4th? So far, Patch’s grassroots news style has been successful in our book, our book having no knowledge or consideration of business models or financial stability (we do words). It’ll be interesting to see how Patch changes with a Godzilla-wide media presence like Huffington casting a shadow over the operation.