Sunday, August 8, 2010

What's the deal with working for Patch?

I was encouraged last spring when I started seeing want ads for Patch, AOL's chain of new hyperlocal news sites, because I thought these sites might offerjob opportunities for journalism students. When something like this starts up, it's good for everyone because it injects competition into the local news scene, and that means everyone's looking for talent.

In the old days when you worked for a local weekly, it was a 40-60 hour a week job. (I shudder to recall what I got paid!) You covered everything, from selectmen to school committee to taking the picture of the cat who used the toilet. Don't laugh, that picture would generally make it to the front page. These jobs didn't pay much, but they were generally a lot of fun. They provided young reporters with invaluable experience in covering their communities. And if you ever suffered from writer's block, you find yourself cured when you're working at a job that required ten stories a week.

Here's a Globe story about Patch, and its move into Massachusetts.

A snip:
The company, which has 13 sites and plans dozens more in Massachusetts by year’s end, is playing catch-up in a hyperlocal news market where several other media companies are also vying for more readers and advertising dollars. This year, AOL is spending $50 million to expand Patch nationally to hundreds of sites by the end of the year.

Covering local news has never been a lucrative or particularly cushy gig, but there's a buzz right now about the working conditions at Patch that started recently over at media critic Dan Kennedy's site. 

There is one solution: if you can't pay reporters and editors well, give them a piece of the action. AOL--and anyone going into hyperlocal news-- could set up a profit-sharing program for the contractors who are helping build a successful enterprise. This would certainly ease the turnover rate, build employee loyalty, and, not incidentally, would also be the right thing to do.

At conferences and workshop on social media, I keep hearing the phrase, "Content is king!" Everyone acknowledges the importance of what we used to call "good writing," and now call "sticky content." (Although they are often not one in the same.) Nevertheless, no one wants to pay the writers who produce that good content. 

It always frosted me when I worked my butt off for a small paper or radio station, that when the owners sold these businesses, that they didn't kick a little bonus to the people who helped them build it. 

1 comment:

Deehan said...

I had an interview with Patch that didn't go anywhere (I am the only reporter in Boston who failed to get a job with them - ha!) but I freelance regularly for the Brookline site and hope to do more work for them when their Boston-proper sites start popping up.
I know many of the editors and they seem to like it. The hours aren't that much worse than what Gatehouse have it's people doing and the pay is usually much better, from what I hear. Every newsroom is a sweatshop, so why shouldn't a newsroom-less enterprise generating the same coverage be any different?