PATCHY CLOUDS OVER ONA NETWORKED JOURNALISM PANELS
The Online News Association’s annual convention is getting underway Friday in Washington, D.C., but Thursday was chock full of pre-conference workshops, including a discussion on “networked journalism” and how news organizations can build and strengthen partnerships with hyperlocal sites – citizen journalists and bloggers who can get target individual communities.
But while the panels that made up the session, from Tucson to Seattle to Miami to Charlotte to Asheville, N.C. had different approaches, as they looked ahead there was a cloud on the horizon – AOL’s Patch. None of the partnerships have much active Patch competition yet; Patch has rolled out a pair of Seattle neighborhood sites, and none in the other places represented. But across the board, there was a wary eye toward eventual Patch competition.
Bob Payne of the Seattle Times, whose network of 28 hyperlocal or subject-themed citizen blogs is under the most immediate challenge from Patch, called Patch an ‘interesting challenge’, but said content would eventually win out – and seemed confident that local bloggers who are already living and blogging in their communities, like Tracy Record and the West Seattle Blog, had a leg up.
Other papers with local blog partners agreed that Patch brought a welcome focus on hyperlocal, but that the network of large numbers of cookie cutter sites could be beaten by blogs/citizen journalists dedicated to one community. Rick Hirsch of the Miami Herald said Patch should inspire local blogs and papers to work harder – a welcome opportunity. But Steve Gunn of the Charlotte Observer said the best local blogs will win out over Patch. “I don’t know what the future is, Gunn said, “but I’d take (the local blog) davidsonnews.net over Patch any day.”
In the end, though, it will be the business model more than the content that determines whether Patch can succeed. AOL can build broad networks, but they might not be able to match the local connections a resident-blogger can make, or the potential multi-platform sales potential of local papers creating web content.
But Patch has their attention, even in places where it has yet to launch. So if nothing else, AOL can be assured already that it has had an impact on local online content.