AOL hyperlocal: hubris patch is dying because local journalism is artisanal not industrial

Posted on January 2, 2014

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AOL maintains that its Patch hyper-local news venture is not shutting down, but it has clearly failed to meet the promise of CEO Tim Armstrong’s vision — because the model it was built on was the wrong approach to the problem

AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong is apparently scrambling to downplay the implications of a New York Times weekend piece on the company’s troubled Patch unit, which suggested that the hyper-local journalism business might be headed for the bone-yard. According to an internal memo, the AOL subsidiary is not shutting down — and while it has shed a number of staff, the company maintains that it is a going concern and is “talking with potential partners.”

These protests aside, however, Patch is clearly a failure — in the sense that it has failed to meet the ambitious goals that Armstrong had for the unit when he first came up with the idea in 2007, before he became CEO of AOL. His vision at the time was of a network of semi-independent local journalists covering thousands of local communities spanning the entire United States, a vision sparked by a look at his own community of Riverside, Conn., where he said no one was really covering the topics that mattered to residents like himself.

That was — and is — almost certainly true of many communities where there is no strong local news outlet, either because the town or region is too small or because the newspaper that used to do that decided that the economics didn’t work. But Patch’s model was completely wrong for solving that problem, as author and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis points out in a post.

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