How Can Aol Patch Its Local Service?

Wow, everyone’s ganging up on Patch these days. No surprise, I suppose, since it’s tied so closely to Aol., a company declared dead so many times by frustrated naysayers that if it ever did expire nobody would believe the news. Yeah, Patch probably gets the dark shade of that negative halo.

Business Insider has elsewhere said AOL is sinking $50 million a year into Patch and The New York Times suggests they are getting three million uniques a month for the trouble. Hmm. And to produce the content those millions are ingesting AOL employs about 800 editors nationwide. Probably not enough to sell ads against at levels to drive profitability, but I’m not an economist.

I do think Patch has approached their task of redefining local journalism / information by turning a disinterested ear (in the early days) to questions of profit. Cost and rev models be damned, they seem to be saying, as they build an entirely new – if not original – platform.

I would guess there is a directional shift in Patch’s future – or should be – to include at least:

– A local deals program, perhaps integrating AOL’s WOW (or just buy LivingSocial already – it’s practically in the family as it is!)

– Better social integration with AOL properties like MapQuest

– Deep integration of AOL’s City’s Best

– Partnerships with Facebook (I know, good luck) and smaller online, user-gen news players to auto-ingest current local content

– Be best at covering defaults, divorces, deaths, deals, crime

– Get much, much, much, much, much more local

But until that shifting happens (they will call a “pivot” – ironically of course), it might make more sense to let this thing play out and throw our stones at other, bigger money wasters. $50 million for a bold, romantic, if foolhardy experiment in saving a part of local journalism? I could think of worse things.

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