Jan 17, 2011

New Yorker profiles AOL and Patch

New Yorker media writer Ken Auletta has written a profile of AOL and its effort to become a major online content provider (i.e., online news operation) - including the recent explosion Patch sites around the country. Auletta's assessment isn't kind, saying the content is "piffle."

Here's how PaidContent summarizes Auletta's view of Patch (New Yorker story is subscription only):
Patch, which Auletta puts at 700 outlets and has 750-plus now, is too much like “digital Yellow Pages” plus has tension between journalism and boosterism—and probably costs too much to last at an estimated $30 million a quarter.
The hectic effort to get Patch to the 750 number before the close of 2010 certainly had an effect on quality - something the managers of Patch admitted internally. Whether AOL has a strategy to turn this around, now that it has numbers, remains the central question. Auletta doesn't think it will. Again, from PaidContent:
AOL gets points for hiring hundreds of journalists for Patch and hiring some talented journalists overall, but loses some for failing to hire an editor in chief. It also loses some for losing reporters. AOL refugee Jeff Bercovici told Auletta one reason he switched to Forbes.com was to get his calls returned but also cited the pressure to reverse a downward trend. And this was written when FanHouse was an AOL brand; late last week Armstrong announced plans to outsource most of sports, health and real estate. Auletta’s take: AOL does not seem to be saving journalism, and journalism does yet seem to be saving AOL.” He carefully leaves the door ajar for that possibility but clearly doesn’t expect it.
 The New York Times had a story yesterday that gives us a glimpse of the Patch metrics (found via LA Observed):
Traffic on individual sites is low; former editors say that the average post attracts just 100 views and that they considered 500 page views a wild success. But the overall traffic is growing quickly.

In December, Patch had just over three million unique visitors, 80 times that of a year earlier, according to comScore.

Yet over the years, a number of so-called hyperlocal news sites have failed, and the idea is largely unproved financially.


Anonymous said...

You mean to say that an elitist writer most of us have never heard of from a snobby east coast publication wrote a condescending story about a community news endeavor? Why, I'm shocked!

If a community newspaper can't please a Manhattan prig, then it must be doomed to fail.

Anonymous said...

With those metrics it will fail. It has nothing to do with who is writing about it -- it is math.

Edward Barrera said...

Gary, it's Auletta.

Second, Anon 3:06 - Nice way of ignoring the argument. Slam the writer, not the substance. (And if you've "never heard" of Auletta, you're saying more about your ignorance of media criticism than the failure of the writer to prove his premise.)

Anon. 3:58 - Unfortunately, I think you're right. I don't think AOL, financially, is in it for the long haul. But I wish Patch well. It would be good for everyone.

Unlike Patch in SoCal, which seems to be hiring some serious journalists, New York is mostly hiring recently graduated journalism majors or feature type freelancers. Not a recipe for longtime success.

Gary Scott said...

Auletta misspelling corrected

Anonymous said...


The writer's argument seems to be that Patch content is "piffle." That's a pretty pejorative and subjective characterization.

Maybe it's not so much that Patch content is irrelevant, but that Auletta isn't its target audience.

Patch, for all its drawbacks, is writing about the people and events in my community that most arrogant mainstream news organizations such as his ignore.

It is much more relevant to my day to day life than any of the piffle published by the New Yorker.

If Auletta is too absorbed in his elitist mindset to recognize that, then he deserves whatever slams he gets.

Anonymous said...

Are we really going to reduce The New Yorker to a "snobby east coast publication?" If so, and I'm assuming this was posted by a reporter, no wonder mid-sized newspapers are failing. Good writing is good writing; even if it's penned by an elitist.