Matthew Caylor, MANSI Media
In newsrooms across America, there has been a lot of discussion about AOL’s Patch.com service. If you have been following some of the recent articles in Headlines & Deadlines, you are probably already familiar with what Patch is offering across its hyperlocal websites.
If you are not familiar with it, Patch is a service that operates similar to many newspaper sites; bringing local news, events, photos and forums to communities. These communities can be entire cities or portions of larger metro areas with a population between 15,000 and 100,000. Patch, another in a long line of services offered by national companies trying to dig into the local market, might be looking at, or already established in, a market near you. In Pennsylvania, Patch is already in or planning to enter the following areas:
As this localized news service continues to grow across Pennsylvania, it is worth taking a moment to step back and learn from these new entrants into the market.
What is Patch.com doing right?
- It offers a clean, easy-to-navigate website. When a user first lands on a Patch site, they are greeted with an easy-to-understand navigation bar (Home, News, Events, etc.) that conforms to average Web conventions and titles. The user is also presented with a single lead story, followed by a breakdown of stories descending on the page. This layout should seem familiar, as a number of newspapers use a similar setup. However, what Patch offers is an extremely stripped down version with low clutter and few distractions.
This layout could easily be changed (losing its low-clutter appeal) as advertising is added to the various Pennsylvania sites.
- It presents hyperlocal content. Users will not find an Associated Press news feed or links to the latest stories from Perez Hilton. What the average local reader will uncover is news concerning their small corner of the woods (for example, news of Manayunk and not all of Philadelphia) – from local borough snow procedures to a review of the restaurant on the corner, and photos of sports and events submitted by local residents.
- It has a constant flow of information. Be it a story, a photo or a tweet; something is always being posted to the Patch sites. As users return throughout the day they are fed a constant stream of information. This regular push encourages their users to return on a regular basis.
- It promotes user comments. With the bulk of the right hand rail dedicated to user comments, Patch.com has made a serious commitment to making users’ comments part of the news feed.
“37 percent of Internet users have contributed to the creation of news, commented about it, or disseminated it via postings on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.” (Understanding the Participatory News Consumer, Pew Internet & American Life Project, March 2010)
This engagement grants users a level of ownership on these hyperlocal sites and capitalizes on their involvement to generate new content to feed users as they return throughout the day.
- It ties into the community. With a combination of hyperlocal content, user-submitted content (photos, comments and volunteer blogs) and a potential for a robust community calendar, each of the Patch.com sites can provide a highly localized portal for users in their targeted communities. Multiple tweets and hooks within the stories encouraging users to participate shows an emphasis by Patch’s content editors on encouraging a community response.
Nothing Patch.com is doing is groundbreaking. Patch has not re-invented the wheel or brought about an unprecedented evolution in news gathering. What it is doing is offering a stripped-down, engaging and easy-to-use news outlet in small to midsize communities across the country. Newspapers should view these new sites as competition, and as such, look for ways to improve their own products and offer similar options to their users, just as they have in the past when other competitors (radio, television or even other newspapers) have entered the market.
Has Patch entered your market? How have you prepared for the potential competition? Let me know by e-mailing me, Matthew Caylor, at matthewc@MANSImedia.com