There’s a lot of things missing on Wheaton Patch. Text links are gone, not just broken, but have taken their words with them, rendering some sentences nonsensical. Videos, including pieces that took several weeks, have disappeared into the ether.
I know this because I was the one who put all those links there. I was the one who created those videos.
Last week AOL announced it had sold control of Patch to Hale Global, an otherwise nondescript turnaround firm. The announcement is basic corporate speak, promising to to re-launch Patch as an “efficient platform”. One report says Patch would be entirely dismantled and sold off in its various parts. (Edit 1/29: 100 more of Patch staff gone)
Fair enough, given it had already begun dismantling itself.
When Patch ramped up in 2010, the idea seemed counter-intuitive enough to work: scaling real local journalism.
For me it was AOL’s relatively large pockets versus struggling local newspapers; slow to internet launch newspapers versus a website-only hybrid of bloggy items and reported stories with tips from engaged local residents. Promised a challenging launch and a large amount of independence, I jumped on.
I cannot tell you what finally did in Patch, although I can tell you what made it much easier to leave almost three years ago.
- Sixty-to-70 hour work weeks. I’m not a person with hobbies but anyone, no matter how dedicated, is going to burn out.
- Top-down editorial decisions, made in an attempt to make the work load easier (and raise the quality across all sites), often ended up backfiring in communities where the demographics or facts on the ground didn’t make sense. Sean Roach’s CJR feature describes this much better than I could, you should read it.
- A bad taste in my mouth towards the attempts to boost content with site bloggers. I don’t object to having a blogging platform integrated with the news site, but it should have be an add-on, not something the site ever wants to rely on (bad business in addition to bad journalism, imho). Plus, the implementation of the blogging roll out confirmed – for me – that upper-management wasn’t fully invested in each new curveball they threw at us.
Granted, I speak from a very different place now – a company that operates by charter in the public interest. But there was an odd mixture of naivete and cynicism at Patch that, as far as I can tell, never resolved itself.
Which brings me back to all the things that disappeared.
When I first realized the videos were gone, I berated myself for not taking copies before I handed back my Patch laptop. I should have known this would be an option. The internet might be forever, but Wayback Machine doesn’t cache video. But that was a personal loss – among the hundred thousand words I wrote that year I doubt more than a few thousand meet the “truly needed to be preserved for posterity” threshold. I can save those things for my personal records. What might not make it is the another 10,000 or so words that might be useful to someone some day but look like filler now. That problem is much larger than Patch.
So I was grateful I got to leave when I did but sad to go from something I thought was a good civic idea. Local journalism needs people on the ground, people who are professional but respectable pain in the asses. In a way, the independent neighborhood blogs I see in DC gives me hope.
I don’t know if it gets replicated elsewhere in the country, especially when local broadcast journalism moves towards further consolidation. I’d given up on Patch as a company a while ago, but I’m still not convinced the spirit in which many Patch writers did their work should be considered too expensive or too unworkable.
I was grateful to work with Amy Kovac-Ashley as my editor, who smartly reminded me I was allowed to delegate in order to do larger projects, who supported me when I got a strange cease-and-desist letter and who was an all-around great sounding board for a young journalist. I’m glad to see many of my fellow Maryland Patchers landed on their feet and went to bigger and bolder things. To its credit, Patch hired some fantastic journalists.
So my rallying cry to all my former Patch coworkers, those who left early or who stayed on to the bitter end, is simple: remember why you signed on in the first place. Then remember when somebody in your community came up to you and thanked you for what you did. Keep doing things that aim towards those ends.