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AOL, Patch Declare War on Newspapers in California

Staff Report

American On-Line, the owner of the controversial local internet websites known as “The Patch” have declared an all-out assault on print newspapers in California by sponsoring legislation that would threaten the system of printed public notices of meetings at city halls, school districts, water districts, county halls of administration and other public agencies.

The legislation is also being championed by Lakewood Assemblyman Anthony Rendon who received several large checks from AOL for his recent election campaign.

Assembly Bill 642 would allow internet only entities to become a “newspaper of general circulation” and publish public notices, and it could come before Sacramento lawmakers as early as March 23.

“The criteria used to establish an internet-only entity to be the official newspaper for a community is so weak it would allow any blogger or hobbyist with a laptop, tablet or smart phone to qualify,” said Brian Hews, Publisher and Owner of Los Cerritos Community Newspaper and the La Mirada Lamplighter.

“AB 642 requires no brick-and-mortar presence, no business office, and therefore, likely no local publisher, editors, reporters, local ad staff, production and circulation staff. A single regional editor aggregating content from the worldwide web and rewriting news credited at great expense by real newspapers would qualify,” Hews said.

Hews has been a newspaper publisher since 1994 and has been in the business more than 30 years.

“AB 642 would allow the adjudication of a petri dish,” Hews said. “This will kill some great local newspapers.”

“Deflecting rumors American On-Line was going to pull the plug on The Patch or at least recreate it to operate without humans, they have admitted it continues to be experimental with local Patch sites,” Hews said.

An AOL spokesman recently admitted that “we test different models in an effort to best serve our existing communities and our future ones.”

Locally published Patch websites in Cerritos and several other surrounding communities throughout Southern California are considered by many in the newspaper publishing profession to be “heavily influenced by local elected politicians and government officials who are in search of fluffy, nonobjective content,” Hews said.

Los Cerritos Community Newspaper is currently being considered for two Pulitzer Prize Awards in the categories of Investigative Series and Public Affairs Reporting for their highly touted investigation into alleged criminal activities deep inside the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration and Assessor’s Office.

“Internet-only publications, especially The Patch are undependable, have no permanency, are subject to constant change and susceptible to technology failure. Internet connections fall, server’s crash, links die and websites are hacked all the time,” Hews said.

“One thing we have proven here at Los Cerritos Community Newspaper and the La Mirada Lamplighter is that community newspapers have never been so strong, independent from government influence and has put elected officials and politicians on their toes,” Hews said.

Hews has reached out to Assemblyman Rendon with a phone call to his office on Thursday, March 14.

“We endorsed and urged our readers to support the election of Assemblyman Rendon in 2012, and we look forward to meeting with him sometime over the next week,” Hews added.

Los Cerritos Community Newspaper and the La Mirada Lamplighter is delivered to 45,000 homes each Friday, and has an internet readership of more than 100,000 to 150,000 readers each month.

READ MORE:

Local Editor-Patch Model Will Not Work

Life After Patch-Local Editor Goes Back to Newsprint

 

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25 Responses to AOL, Patch Declare War on Newspapers in California

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  17. Nom de ploom Reply

    April 1, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I am roomates with a current Patch employee and agree completely that this it’s no longer journalism when an editor is rated by unique visitors and “Likes” on Facebook. And from what I understand, the guy they brought in last years to lead sales is a real ball-buster who isn’t seeing much success.

    • Randy R. Economy Reply

      April 2, 2013 at 8:08 am

      We appreciate you comments and insight into “the Patch” and agree with your comments.
      Randy Economy
      On-Line Editor
      Los Cerritos Community Newspaper

  18. Smitty Reply

    March 20, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Who introduced Assembly Bill 642 from what voter district?

    I think CA needs a bill precluding monopoly service providers (like phone companies, cable companies, cellular companies) from padding their customer bills to support crony media propaganda-like “the patch”.

    I think CA needs referendum preventing local govt from limiting cable , internet, phone and airwave company competition.

  19. PatchEx Reply

    March 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Dude. You need a copy editor. Really.

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  21. Randy Drilingas Reply

    March 18, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Ah the Internet. So when the law is made that you can’t just steal other peoples content to make money off it, where will these aggregators be? It’s already pretty easy to track who is stealing what content but since there is no law to make it illegal, it’s not worth looking into. But with the proper laws in place, the aggregator sites will either be forced to do actual work, or pay to use it. It’s the same thing people have been saying for years but everyone screams murder if they can’t get everything for free. Oooo the regulation of the Internet. The Government needs to stay out of it, etc…

    It’ll happen and you’d be nuts to think it won’t. Maybe not now, maybe not in 5 years, but it will happen.

    It’s crazy to me with all the talk of unemployment in America you don’t hear much at all about the jobs that the Internet takes away on a daily basis. It’s just “All hail the Internet”. All because it’s easier. Quality is gone. And it shows in the lack of quality in any sector of America. Make it Cheap, Make it Easy, Make Money.

    And the Internet evolves…

  22. From Business Insider Reply

    March 17, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    AOL seems to be radically changing its plans for Patch, it’s network of local news sites.
    We’ve heard from insiders that the division is pivoting away from a human editor centric model, toward one where local sites (“Patches”) are built to be content-sharing and community-organizing tools for their areas.
    Editors won’t go away entirely, but there will be fewer of them, writing for more sites.
    The contraction of human resources is not going unnoticed.
    Former Patch editors keeping track of their old employer have begun emailing us about it.
    One says:
    Looks like AOL Patch is continuing to cut editors. Of the 50 sites in Maryland about 15 appear to be w/o editors including Annapolis and Severna Park, two of the larger sites. Many others are “doubling up”…one editor now handling two sites instead of one.
    What’s going on? Is this the beginning of the end for hyper-local approach at AOL?
    Another:
    I noted with interest the recent article that you did on AOL and Patch. I’m following this saga as I was one of the original freelancers let go 9 months after it started (correction: asked to work for 1/3 of what I had been paid), by a young, highly immature local editor (I digress). Recently, same Patch (Renton.patch.com) and many of the other Patch sites locally (Greater Seattle area) mysteriously went from having local editors to links to “staff” and most of the sites are now distributing much of the same news. I thought you might like the tip in case you are interested in following up on the saga.
    We were also skeptical of Patch’s human-heavy approach. We always noted that Patch’s AOL cousin, Huffington Post, has a much larger audience for its four local blogs than Patch had for its 800.
    The human-heavy Patch cost AOL ~$150 million per year, and was a big reason why AOL’s Internet access division’s profits were more than the total company’s profits.
    So, making Patch more of a Web-tool for locals is a smart move.
    Still, it sucks to hear about people getting fired.
    Update: Here’s a comment from Patch on this story:
    “Patch as we know it will continue to exist and thrive, as we continue to be, a blend of original reporting, high-quality community contribution, and aggregation. We test different models in an effort to best serve our existing communities, and our future ones. We had a great 2012 in which we more than doubled revenue, increased traffic by roughly 40% and realized double-digit percentage operating efficiencies. We are well positioned for our stated goal of run-rate profitability by the end of the year.”

    Read more: www.businessinsider.com/aols-grand-human-heavy-local-news-experiment-is-coming-to-an-end-2013-2#ixzz2Nqwh8yF5

  23. Ex Patch Editor Reply

    March 17, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Ever since Tim Armstrong took over AOL to “save” the news business, there’s been apocalyptic sign after apocalyptic sign that the slick Google ad exec simply had no idea what journalists, readers and even the most cynical, profiteering media moguls held sacred about this industry.

    There was the “AOL Way” memo, which told all media properties to prize page views and volume and steer away from actual breaking news (no one knows how to search for something they haven’t read!). It held up headlines like “Lady Gaga Pantsless in Paris” as the gold standard for their ability to leverage SEO juice.

    There was Armstrong’s abomination of a statement to the New York Times that TechCrunch simply didn’t feel it needed to adhere to any ethical standards of journalism– throwing every reporter and editor who wasn’t raising a venture firm under the bus, and igniting a total shit storm inside and outside the publication.

    As for AOL’s premier media properties it purchased, it’s done what it told the staff it’d do: Flooded them with traffic from its homepage and other sites in the AOL network. Page views are higher than they’ve ever been. Hooray! But forget the ethics of journalism; just look at that from a business point of view: It’s destroyed the lucrative demographics these sites once owned in favor of just recirculated dumb page views. AOL already had plenty of that without spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Early in 2011, Comscore reported that TechCrunch now shares more readers with other AOL sites than it does other tech media sites– a big change in a short period of time. Likewise, Business Insider has reported that out of 80 AOL properties only about a dozen have a primary source of referral traffic that is not AOL’s legacy, declining ISP and mail properties.

    Even Huffington Post’s page views have seemingly come at the cost of its demographics. The original Huffington Post team worked tirelessly to get the site down from an undesirable aged-60 demo to a sub-40 year old demo. And as Bryan Goldberg reported a few weeks ago, it’s back above the 60-year-old demographic. What’s more: The audience is solidly rooted in Middle America, not the coasts as it was before.

    What does that demographic sound like? Oh yeah, people who don’t realize they don’t have to pay for dial up and still go to AOL’s home page everyday. I was watching Top Chef last week and Tom Colicchio screamed at a chef something to the effect of: “Why do you people always think if you take one thing that’s seasoned and one thing that’s bland and put them together the result will be something seasoned? It’ll be something bland!”

    Voila, AOL’s media strategy in practice.

    Now, Armstrong is finally making moves at his baby, the much maligned and money-losing local news network Patch, which he co-founded with AOL President Warren Webster. Like so much of AOL’s content strategy, it’s something that both journalism purists and those watching the business hate. It’s written by a low-paid, overworked staff schooled in that AOL Way method of click bait, rather than investing in the local news that these communities actually really need. And while 100 of the sites are profitable, the overall property is not and has been under continual Wall Street pressure. (There are more than 800 total, so that figure isn’t quite as impressive as it sounds.)

    So is it a good thing or a bad thing that Patch is moving towards giving up on doing journalism altogether? According to comments made by that same Patch co-founder Webster at a conference Tuesday evening, those complaints of editors being “overworked” will simply be alleviated this year by turning the “news” sites into “community hubs.”

    From a Columbia Journalism Review story:

    “Five towns in Long Island have been testing a new platformthat shifts the site’s focus from publishing outlet—for both professional reporting and unpaid, HuffPost-style community bloggers—to more of a “community hub.”

    There will be “as much and more quality original content,” Webster said, though “content” will mean not only reported stories or but also community conversations as encouraged by the new platform. Running a community hub, Webster said, is “definitely going to be a big part of what our editors do.”

    So Patch is going from a bad version of something the journalism world desperately needs to something no one needs– more community message boards. Just kill it already and make Wall Street happy. What decade is this anyway?

    Beyond these moves, my internal AOL sources have told me over the past few weeks that the message throughout the company has been that Armstrong needs to show Wall Street escalating revenue growth at whatever core media properties they have left– no matter what it takes. Marketing costs are escalating to help push this at core properties, I’m told by multiple sources. Expect more of the same: Greater volume, more link-bait headlines, and more re-routing of the legacy Web 1.0 the AOL home page trades on. I’d guess that Huffington Post will be the most immune from the bad effects of this, given Arianna Huffington’s continued role at the company.

    While a quick fix to keep the stock price moving, the strategy erodes what was great about any of these properties AOL spent hundreds of millions of dollars on. You know: Quality content and a premium audience.

    Last year, Armstrong did a good job of dealing with Wall Street. But as our own Kevin Kelleher explained in November, the stock rally isn’t necessarily a sustainable one.

    (Disclosure: I’m heavily biased when it comes to AOL’s handling of media properties, seeing as how I quit my last job because of it.)

  24. FLF Reply

    March 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    I stopped even glancing at any “Patch” years ago.. they were/are so hard left wing and LIBERALLY biased it was nauseating to even read any of them! And if you made a reply even remotely conservative to challenge their highly suspect rhetoric, the low info and uneducated retards came out of the woodwork to try and do major character assassination on you.. It was a waste of time to do battle with them anymore..

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