I used to fret about getting a well-paid job in journalism. Not something that could afford me a new Bentley every year and Malibu beachfront property, but something to comfortably pay the bills and keep me in new J. Crew sweaters every now and then. As I prepare to get graduate, get a diploma and interview for my first post-grad job, I’m trying to find opportunities that pay at all. And with news that AOL’s Patch network of hyperlocal sites are axing freelance budgets and thinning out content, I don’t think I’ll be filling out an application there anytime soon.
The goal of Patch probably wasn’t to give recent j-school grads some entry-level jobs. The mission was, of course, to capitalize off of disappearing local newspapers in areas underserved by larger metropolitan papers. In theory, a hyperlocal, online-only approach to community news makes sense when people have so many other outlets for sports, stock numbers, national news, etc.
I give some of the Patch-ers credit. Certain regions have decent local content in addition to locals blogging about their own causes and events. In some regions, Patch does create a community forum and local news spot that probably didn’t exist before. Even in Boston, the Back Bay Patch tweeter does a good job of keeping tabs on breaking news in that neighborhood. (And she’s far less annoying than the Globe’s mass Your Town tweets.)
But the plan to effectively dumb-down Patch and make it a host for events calendars and columns by people who don’t know how to write doesn’t really serve any community well. Those things are nice if they compliment a site that provides facts first, that has reporters at public meetings and actually reporting. Insiders say Patch isn’t lighting up AOL’s bank balance and is therefore not long for this world. Can’t say I’ll miss the sites when they’re gone. I’ll just miss the jobs.