with vested interest
Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL, who publicly fired an employee, then apologized.
WITH GREAT FANFARE in 2009, media giant AOL announced it was launching a bold experiment in hyperlocal news.
Today, it is admitting the “news” has not been all that good.
AOL has long struggled with its identity.
In January 2001, according to the Time Warner web site, AOL – then soaring on the internet wave – merged with Time Warner, becoming more than just an internet portal.
That ill-advised deal collapsed in 2009.
Today, according to business site Bloomberg, AOL will announce massive reductions in Patch, its hyper-local internet-only offerings.
IN THE STORY AOL Said to be Closing or Finding Partners for 400 Patches Edmund Lee writes that “AOL will replace the head of its struggling Patch local-news operation and plans to close or find partners for 400 of the unit’s 900 community websites as it looks to cut jobs.”
The site of my local Patch publication, for Altadena, Calif. Click image to enlarge.
Lee then reports that AOL CEO Tim Armstrong had said in a call with analysts that “after recently evaluating the Patch division, Armstrong found a third of the 900 sites to be successful.”
That means two-thirds were failing.
The story was further developed in another context: the controversy that erupted when Armstrong publicly fired an employee while on a conference call.
Reporting on his public apology in AOL Chief Apologizes Over Firing of Worker in The New York Times on Wednesday, Leslie Kaufman dropped this tidbit way at the end of the story:
“ AOL has spent hundreds of millions on the Patch service, but has acknowledged being disappointed with its financial performance. During a call with analysts last week Mr. Armstrong said he would sell off or seek partners for as many as 400 of Patch’s 900 local sites, a move that could result in hundreds of layoffs.
“The firing took place during a conference call with more than 1,000 employees of Patch, the local news service AOL runs for hundreds of towns.”
What is the problem with some hyper-local news online only sites? Rem Rieder of USA Today lists many that have failed in Tough times for Patch, hyperlocal news.
“Armstrong has plenty of company when it comes to experiencing the difficulty of pulling off a hyperlocal triumph,” Reider writes.
“Backfence, … was launched with great fanfare and high hopes in 2005. … By 2007, Backfence was gone
“In 2007, The Washington Post tried its hand at the game [with] LoudounExtra in D.C.’s Virginia exurbs. LoudounExtra lasted two years.
“Launched in 2008, EveryBlock ultimately took root in 19 cities. Acquired by MSNBC.com in 2009, it was shut down by by NBC in February.”
There are many more on his list.
ON THE OTHER SIDE of the fence, so to speak, local mom and pop sites (those not owned by distant, impersonal conglomerates who couldn’t care less about the communities they cover) are springing up like dandelions in the spring.
The site of 411 Whittier, published by a former colleague.
Click image to enlarge.
One of these 411 Whittier was started a few months ago by a former colleague, Tim Traeger, who lives in Whittier, Calif., and was editor of the print publication The Whittier Daily News when I worked as an editor on the news desk of San Gabriel Valley Newspapers (whose parent company has since filed for and emerged from bankruptcy).
According to its mission statement “411whittier.com is committed to publishing positive community events, letters to the editor, business and education news, local sports and faith-based information … For the time being postings will be exclusively published online.”
Another Los Angeles area site that is part of a slightly larger (but still locally owned) group is Yo! Venice
Its bio page reveals that “Yo! Venice was started by two friends, Keri and Bret, to create a community blog for residents of Venice Beach California.
“In today’s world of RSS feeds, they felt that a blog would be a perfect place for people to let others know how they view the Venice Beach community through words and pictures.”
The contrast with AOL is stark.
It is not hard to see that local owners/publishers have a far greater vested interest in their local communities than giant conglomerates.
They are likely to be far better informed of what is important to their communities, to have better sources (their neighbors, after all!) and to be able to reach out to those close at hand far better than some mass emailer with the moniker “A-O-L” attached to every email.
I wish the new breed of local journalism the best of success. Local news is vitally important, and it is not being effectively delivered by huge corporations who haven’t got a clue.
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