With newspapers croaking right and left, American citizens are justifiably wondering what or who is going to fill the local-paper vacuum. To that end, a handful of companies have tried to float new local news models.
So far, most have failed (WaPo’s Loudoun County experiment, for example). Google boss Tim Armstrong, however, seems to be on the right track with his new company, Patch.
Judging from the site, which has created a few New Jersey “patches,” the model is to have a small group of reporters and editors write some original news content, with the community contributing events, classifieds, etc. This makes sense.
Any effort left entirely to the community with no editorial oversight will fail (editors do serve a purpose). As will any attempt to create a full-blown newsroom (the ad revenue just won’t support it).
Based on the early beta product for the towns in New Jersey, Patch is still missing a couple of elements:
- Aggregation. There is no way one or two reporters can produce enough content to keep the community happy. The site needs to link to or run the work of others to be successful.
- Automated journalism. The site has to take advantage of all the content that is or will eventually be available online for most communities: High school sports schedules/scores, real-estate sales, police records, deaths, births, etc. This stuff is a big reason people read local newspapers, but there’s no way Patch can afford to create it from scratch. So it needs the engineering team to find ways to incorporate and link to it automatically.
There’s a strong team here, though (see About page), as well as a boatload of money (see Tim Armstrong). And the beta product gets enough right that the company would seem to have an excellent opportunity to get the business right, too. Too bad the Journal Register, et al, didn’t think of this while they still had some cash flow.
Here are some screen shots from the SouthOrangePatch: