Sunday, September 19, 2010

New Media Outlet to Begin Covering Bowie

A new online media outlet backed by AOL will begin coverage of Bowie at the end of September. Bowie Patch plans to provide Bowie news, event listings, a business and services directory, classified ads and breaking news alerts. Along with the new website, Bowie Patch will also distribute news and information via social media outlets Twitter and Facebook.

"Bowie residents should be excited about Patch," said Bowie Patch Editor Josh Flynn. "It's a place to get local news multiple times a day. In today's 24-hour news cycle, a weekly or even a daily news outlet just doesn't cut it anymore."

Bowie Patch will become one of more than 100 local Patch sites serving local communities in eleven states, with many sites already covering Maryland communities. Patch sites for Greenbelt, College Park, Wheaton and Kensington have been launched, and Crofton Patch will be online soon. A total of 500 Patch sites are expected to be operational by the end of the year.

Bowie Patch will be providing what is known as hyperlocal news coverage. According to Wikipedia, hyperlocal news is coverage of events in a community by people from that community for consumption by residents in that community. "One of the main differences between Patch and other news websites is the commitment to having a professional journalist living in, or very near to, the area that they are covering," said Flynn who currently resides in Bowie. "As the traditional media outlets are downsizing and reducing local coverage in smaller communities, Patch is striving to fully cover those communities and keep things as up to the minute as possible through our website, social media, and breaking news alerts that can be delivered via text or e-mail."

A comprehensive directory of businesses, organizations and government offices will be available on the Bowie Patch website. "We have sent out a team to nearly every place in Bowie that has a listed phone number and address to confirm their information, get some photos, and create a listing for them in our directory," said Flynn. "Once the site goes live, business owners have the capability to take control of their listing to post events, photos, etc; all for free." (click here to see a sample listing for Generous Joe's Deli on the Greenbelt Patch website).

Patch's hyperlocal coverage of Bowie will extend beyond news and the directory. "Patch is a forum for community engagement," explains Flynn. People will be able to create membership accounts on the Bowie Patch website, and members will be able to add announcements, add events, write reviews, post comments and upload photos and videos. There will eventually be a dedicated calendar editor for maintaining the list of events, but people with Patch membership accounts can also add events to the calendar. (click here to see the events calendar on the Greenbelt Patch website).

Patch also gives new meaning to "following a story." Readers with free membership accounts can receive email alerts when a story is updated or comments are added. Email alerts can also be requested for updates to directory entries or calendar events. This makes it possible for a reader to receive an alert when the start time for an interesting event is modified or the event is canceled.

There will also be a section of the website dedicated to volunteer opportunities in the community, and Patch will support local charities through its Give 5 program: 5% of its advertising space is provided to local charities at no cost, and all Patch employees will spend five work days per year volunteering in the community.

In a time when journalism jobs are becoming harder to find, AOL plans on hiring 500 full time journalist in 2010 - more than any other media organization in the U.S., according to AOL. In case you were hoping to be hired for a full time Patch job in Bowie, that position is taken. That's right. Bowie Patch editor Josh Flynn has the only Bowie Patch salaried position. Although there are other regional full time Patch employees providing support for multiple Patch sites, the reporting and story writing will be handled by Flynn and a team of freelancers. According to one report, between six and twelve freelance reporters and columnists are required to support each Patch site.

Despite the comprehensive directory, there is one business noticeably absent from the online database. Users searching for "Patch" on the Greenbelt Patch site receive the following message.

Sorry, we couldn't find anything matching your search. Did you spell everything correctly?
Local Patch sites do not have offices. Josh Flynn will be working out of his home office, Starbucks, Panera Bread, Noodles & Company, the Bowie Library or wherever else he can find a wired spot to get online. Despite the lack of an office, he may be more assessable than traditional print media editors, and residents may just run into him while buying their morning coffee. Look for the man behind a laptop with the Patch logo.

Flynn may want to reconsider his availability policy once the first controversial story appears on the Bowie Patch site. Former Bowie Blade-News editor John Rouse had his office in the back of the Blade-News headquarters to provide a buffer zone between himself and angry readers. Rouse fondly recalls those days.

"Even though my office was in the back of the newsroom and I had a sign above the door (for humorous purposes only) stating visitors were unwelcome, many disgruntled politicians and readers would just storm through the office, parade into my office, wave the paper in my face (or as close as they could get to it) and tell me why a reporter's story was wrong (they never were) or claim my column was off-base (well, sometimes it was). But I could never escape them....The public had full and free access to our newsroom, though sometimes I would close my door."
There's a good chance that the first controversial story on the Bowie Patch site will be written by Rouse. The Bowie news veteran has signed on as a freelance columnist, and he is sure to introduce Josh Flynn to the thorny side of the news business.

The promises of hyperlocal news coverage, up-to-the-minute stories and cool online features are exciting, but the reality is that Patch operates an experimental business model in an industry that is searching for a direction. Fewer readers, reduced ad revenue and the availability of free online content have hurt the news business.

AOL estimates that a Patch site's operating costs are 4.1% of the costs necessary to run a traditional daily newspaper. There is no rent to pay, no printing presses to operate, no paper to buy and no delivery people on the payroll.

Patch also saves money by minimizing full time staff. The local editor is the only dedicated full time employee of a Patch site. Local editors have an annual salary estimated to be between $35k and $45k, and the editors receive medical and dental benefits. Freelancers will reportedly receive between $50 to $100 per story. Freelancers will not receive benefits, and they must pay self-employment tax. The local editors may be the only people making a living wage, and it's doubtful that freelancers will be able to rely on Patch as their sole source of income.

Some reports have surfaced that Patch editors are overworked and underpaid, and the 24/7 news cycle and the lack of dedicated staff make it hard for local editors to take vacation days. One journalist estimated that a Patch local editor will need to work 60 to 80 hours per week to fulfill the responsibilities of the position.

Despite the challenges of the news business, AOL sees gold in hyperlocal coverage. AOL estimates that local online ads can potentially generate $20 billion in annual revenue. To make that a reality, local businesses like Belair Engineering and Marty Mows will have to be convinced to make the switch from print to online ads.

Look for the Bowie Patch site to go live on Tuesday, September 28th, and look for Bowie Patch editor Josh Flynn to make an appearance this week on the Bowie News & Views local access cable show hosted by John Rouse and Burt Oliver. You can also follow Bowie Patch on Twitter and Facebook.

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3 comments:

  1. When I heard that Bowie was getting a Patch, my first thought was that you would be a fabulous addition!! :) (Or a tough competitor... either way.)

    I'm happy to be getting a weekly column with Greenbelt Patch, hopefully debuting this week. Not newsy stuff, but an opinion/parenting column.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's great news! I'll have to look for your column. The Greenbelt Patch site is my home patch site for now until the Bowie site comes on-line.

    I'm interested to see how things unfold for Patch in this area. It will certainly change the online offerings for people interested in Bowie news and events.

    Thanks for the kinds words!

    ReplyDelete
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