Problems at Patch taking root locally

AOL’s problems with Patch are, unfortunately, starting to take root locally.

Patch CerealAOL, by some estimates, has invested over $300 million in their hyper-local news venture. But from the company’s very founding critics argued the business model was flawed. They were right. Last week the company announced layoffs and the closure or consolidation of hundreds of their local editions.

On Friday both the Roswell and Alpharetta/Milton editions showed new editors on the masthead. The name Anthony Duignan-Cabrera now displays in that spot, apparently replacing Christine Foster and Bob Pepalis. The user profiles of Foster and Pepalis are no longer on Patch.

Duignan-Cabrera is Patch’s Vice President and Editorial Director out of their main New York office. His name also appears as the editor of the Loganville-Grayson Patch and nearly thirty other Patches across the country.

The company hasn’t announced changes to local editions but my bet is on consolidation. Rumors online indicate that some editors were given severance incentives to stay on through October. Perhaps this is when readers will notice big changes.

You can certainly blame higher-ups at AOL for Patch’s demise. But that blame shouldn’t be pointed at the local editors. They were all professional, college-educated journalists. Most had deep resumes reporting local news. They also worked insanely long hours to bring you the news.

Bob Pepalis worked for years at the Appen Newspapers prior to joining Patch. In discussing events with him offline I found his knowledge to be vast. He had a solid grasp of deep, complicated stories and the factors that moved them. And it showed in his reporting. He was fair and thorough.

I appreciated the conversation on the Alpharetta Patch. The discussions were lively and insightful. They were also a very healthy thing for the community. You’re not likely to see this anymore on Patch and that’s a shame.

So we’ll continue to observe the slow, spiraling collapse of AOL’s Patch over the coming months. We can poke fun at their executives. What were they thinkin’? But in the end citizens are likely to lose a good source of very local news and conversation. That’s never a good thing.

7 Responses to “Problems at Patch taking root locally”

  1. Greg August 21, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    Lee,

    Thanks for the great summary. I saw the news release last Friday about the cuts to Patch staff across the country and wondered what the local impact would be — pretty severe, if you ask me.

    I guess the bottom line is that local news coverage is expensive, too expensive for AOL and Cox apparently.

    At least we still have the Appen newspaper/website as a resource.

  2. A August 21, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    Well, after the public firing of a Patch employee on a conference call recently, it’s no surprise. I have not been a fan of the Alpharetta-Milton Patch. While Bob Pepalis may have a decent background (I don’t know his credentials), I thought there were way too many fluff pieces for my taste. I don’t know if there is a market for hyperlocal news sites like this; probably not given what’s happening with Patch. Appen is OK and AJC has North Fulton news from time to time. Honestly Lee, I get a lot of news right here from your blog!

  3. Cool Papa Bell August 21, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

    It was a noble idea but a terrible business model. One has to get enormous traffic to get revenue from PPC advertising. The few times we’ve had breaking news in the area—chicken man, mall bomb scare, police chase and shootout, etc, the Patches came up well short. At best they’d regurgitate what the big city media told us, often many hours later.

    Even something like a mini-burglary spree or principals leaving schools under a dark cloud, some things one would think hyper local news outlets are for—not a damn thing.

  4. RJ August 21, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    Saw the news about the AOL/Patch changes. I didn’t know Pepalis until I started reading the Patch site. But–honestly–that Dude was at EVERY community event (Ok…”practically” every community event).

    It’s unfortunate…the Patch site provided an additional source of local info.

    Time will tell how useful, informative, etc. the Patch site will remain…

  5. S Lee Guy August 21, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    It’s always been interesting to see which media outlets break local news first. Usually it is the Atlanta TV stations who get the story first. And that’s often Mike Petchenik at WSBtv.

    Back about two years ago the Patch was right up there as first with a story. Bob was at every Council meeting and ribbon cutting event. But over the last several months local editors have been stretched thin. Readers got less and less coverage of stories like this and more of the low hanging fruit of the journalism world (press releases printed verbatim). You’ve got to think this trend will continue at Patch as they get smaller.

  6. Greg August 26, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    It looks like they’ve now assigned the editor for the Woodstock – Towne Lake Patch to also be the editor for Alpharetta – Milton Patch.

  7. Mike August 27, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    I used to read it a lot. I remember the last city election cycle, they were on every story and event. This person who is now covering Alpharetta and Milton doesn’t seem to have a lot of knowledge of our community. You would think there would be a link on the main page updating people for the qualifications this week. But you would never even know there is an election if you went to the Patch for your news. Besides guest bloggers sometimes, the Patch doesn’t really offer any good perspectives on local affairs. I remember that paper(Beacon?), it was definitely biased towards some people, but at least there was opinion and critical analysis.

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