Two things today made me assess the small progress made in hyperlocal journalism to date, and to reconsider the direction we might be headed in.
First, I saw a tweet go by pointing to a WSJ story:
Keach Hagey, For AOL, a Costly Gamble On Local News Draws Trouble
Mr. Armstrong, has held his ground in defending Patch, which he co-founded in 2007 before he joined AOL, but he recently promised to make it profitable by next year. In a small step toward that goal, Patch said Tuesday it will cut around 20 jobs, or less than 2% of its workforce. The cuts will come from merging the management of its eastern and southern regional reporting operations.
Whether Mr. Armstrong can make Patch a success could determine his fate at AOL. As the ad-supported network has expanded to more than 850 towns from 30 in the past two years, its annual loss has widened sharply to more than $100 million in 2011, analysts say.
The main problem: It is tough to sell enough online ads to cover the cost of producing local news, especially while maintaining a local reporting staff and a local advertising sales force.
“I don’t think anybody’s figured out local yet,” said Rick Blair, an angel investor in several companies that run local websites.
AOL is losing $100M on Patch this year, and Ariana Huffington tried to integrate Patch into the very successful Huffington Post but then lost interest after Patch management chafed at her attempts.
My bet is that Patch will end Armstrong’s career at AOL, and Ariana will take over as CEO. She’ll either scrap Patch or integrate it totally into HuffPo. But to make it a ‘success’ Patch will have to become something very different from what Armstrong envisions.
Note that the Patch model is closed: there is no Patch for Beacon NY, where I live, and there is no provision for me or anyone else to start one. It’s all centrally managed, which just runs counter to hyperlocalism, in my view.
The second reason I am thinking about hyperlocal is that the Guardian — a group that really gets the web in a way that Armstrong seems not to — announced n0tice.org, their ‘open journalism toolkit’, which is a platform for crowdsourcing journalism capable of being used by publishers, brands, communities and developers.
I started fooling around with the tool, and immediately decided to wait for the iPhone app. I created a community ‘n0ticeboard’ for Beacon NY, where I now reside, in about three minutes. Check it out at beacon.n0tice.com.
The UX of n0tice.org is a lot like Tumblr: you login as an individual, and you can create and participate in various n0ticeboards, posting events, reports, or good to sell, swap or share. You can follow other users or n0ticeboards. And you can post to any n0ticeboards, so it is very open (which will lead to a moderation overhead, I am sure).
The Guardian plans to share revenues with those contributing, but has no firm date for that generation of the platform.
At any rate, two very contrasting approaches: Armstrong’s Patch which feels very 2005ish and limited to specific communities, and the Guardian’s n0tice which is based loosely on the basic model of Tumblr — much more contemporary — and based on ‘open journalism’ crowdsourcing. I just wish the n0tice iPhone app was available.
The Guardian project gives me hope that the dream of hyperlocal can really come true, through a very open model of participation.