AOL's Grand Human-Heavy Local News Experiment Is Coming To An End


Photo: Photo from Ling Li Yeoh via Flickr

AOL seems to be radically changing its plans for Patch, it’s network of local news sites.We’ve heard from insiders that the division is pivoting away from a human editor centric model, toward one where local sites (“Patches”) are built to be content-sharing and community-organising tools for their areas.

Editors won’t go away entirely, but there will be fewer of them, writing for more sites.

The contraction of human resources is not going unnoticed.

Former Patch editors keeping track of their old employer have begun emailing us about it.

One says:

Looks like AOL Patch is continuing to cut editors. Of the 50 sites in Maryland about 15 appear to be w/o editors including Annapolis and Severna Park, two of the larger sites. Many others are “doubling up”…one editor now handling two sites instead of one.

What’s going on?  Is this the beginning of the end for hyper-local approach at AOL?  


I noted with interest the recent article that you did on AOL and Patch. I’m following this saga as I was one of the original freelancers let go 9 months after it started (correction: asked to work for 1/3 of what I had been paid), by a young, highly immature local editor (I digress). Recently, same Patch ( and many of the other Patch sites locally (Greater Seattle area) mysteriously went from having local editors to links to “staff” and most of the sites are now distributing much of the same news. I thought you might like the tip in case you are interested in following up on the saga.

We were also sceptical of Patch’s human-heavy approach. We always noted that Patch’s  AOL cousin, Huffington Post, has a much larger audience for its four local blogs than Patch had for its 800.

The human-heavy Patch cost AOL ~$150 million per year, and was a big reason why AOL’s Internet access division’s profits were more than the total company’s profits.

So, making Patch more of a Web-tool for locals is a smart move. 

Still, it sucks to hear about people getting fired.

Update: Here’s a comment from Patch on this story:

“Patch as we know it will continue to exist and thrive, as we continue to be, a blend of original reporting, high-quality community contribution, and aggregation. We test different models in an effort to best serve our existing communities, and our future ones.  We had a great 2012 in which we more than doubled revenue, increased traffic by roughly 40% and realised double-digit percentage operating efficiencies. We are well positioned for our stated goal of run-rate profitability by the end of the year.”

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