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Patch: Building an Online Community, One Voice at a Time

Patch.com columnist Christine Wolf shares how hyperlocal news connects her to her community.

Like many dedicated Patch contributors, Christine Wolf has seen Patch through waves of change.

As we work to build a platform that best serves our users, a huge part of what keeps readers coming back is the connection they find with their communities. 

We’re home to a diverse group of voices and offer a space for meaningful conversation from local, regional and national perspectives. In a nutshell: Patch is a gathering place to learn, ask and engage.

For Christine, writing for Patch is an experience that’s taught her the incredible power of community voices.

In her most recent post, Christine reflects on the last several years and expresses hopes for Patch moving forward.

From a column she wrote on the tragic shooting of a local high school freshman to installments about good-deed-doers, new businesses, schools, traffic problems, Christmas lights, off-leash dogs, homeless vets and the local university, her posts resonated with fellow readers.

“[Patch] encouraged me to widen my path, meet more people, and learn skills I wouldn’t have otherwise,” she writes. “I’ll always carry a heightened sense of community because I was a journalist for Patch.”

To read Christine’s entire column, click here. If you’d like to start a blog of your own, head to your hometown site and click “start a blog.” Questions? Email moderation@patch.com

Joshua Berry February 07, 2014 at 04:25 PM
I used to be a regular blogger on the Gloucester Twp (NJ) Patch. If you want local people to start writing more give us more control and feedback on our blogs, as in the metrics on them and provide a means for people to contact us without leaving a public comment (direct email or private comment). This way we can know what is popular and what is not. If it turns out only 10 people read my blogs I might not continue on that topic but if I could know that, for example, 2500 people read a blog it gives motivation to keep writing. When out former local editor asked me to start a blog you needed a profile picture and written profile. You had to be a verified real person. Now anyone behind a fake name can post. Overall I agree if you want local content to be key then put it at the top of the article list, not buried in the bottom so no one is able to see it after two days but see all of the "national" news we have already read about on our local regional papers.
Atom February 07, 2014 at 10:00 PM
@Patch, "we wonder if having Facebook comments with real names and identities might not actually cut down on the problem of trolls in comments" PLEASE! please don't doth is !.. FB as a sign on??there are times when real names don't want to be used.....without being disrespectful..and because there are still very Many people who don't have FB accounts....and don't want them either!!so please don't switch to this platform...it will definitely shut the conversation down..it certainly did on HP!
"The Black Panther of Poetry" February 09, 2014 at 09:44 PM
Mediums like Patch is the Last refuge of the First Amendment to America's Constitution and all the Liberties it avails us!!!...........................................: "I know not what course others may take......But as for me, GIVE ME LIBERTY.....OR GIVE ME DEATH"!!!! Patrick Henry, 1776
Laura Kean Anes February 11, 2014 at 09:59 AM
"local news" is gone. Our local IN-TOWN editor who covered EVERYTHING from sports, schools, town meeting, you name it - is gone. As a result? No local post, no updates on town meetings, weekend activities, nothing. "Local news" to those of us who relied (RELIED - note the PAST TENSE) on Patch meant daily - even hourly news about OUR town, not towns 45 minutes away. I am amazed at how many different states I see popping up in the comments section of the few Patch articles I am reading. And I am only reading the ones that may tell me if you are bringing Susan Petroni back to Framingham. It's very disappointing.
Walter February 11, 2014 at 01:18 PM
Will material from Patch 1.0 finally be migrated to the new system, or is all that old local content lost forever?
Bob McBride February 11, 2014 at 01:23 PM
K-9, why are you addressing that to me? I'm just another person who uses Patch.
K-9 Klean Up LLC February 11, 2014 at 02:38 PM
@Bob McBride. Seemed as though some of your posts that you were employed by Patch. You had copied several of their comments so it seemed fitting at that moment as I assumed that I was speaking directly to a company individual. I see now that is not correct.
K-9 Klean Up LLC February 11, 2014 at 02:39 PM
@Patch. My business partner and I were going to do local advertising with you. We have decided at this time not to for many reasons. The largest one is the trend of local news is being put to the side for other national stories. While I see it can be a nice option to review such stories, it's not what we want nor had expected from a "local" news source. Your local new sources has become a second option and we see that on the website and especially in the newly formatted emailed newsletters that are pretty much empty of content. We were so impressed with Patch before Hale purchased the company at the fact that our first blog was a feature in the emailed newsletter, then come to find out only a few days later that our local editors and sales agent were "dismissed". My question to you is, who is left here in Loganville? My answer for you, it seems like no one is. We were contacted by a sales rep who has now failed at returning my return call to her and she's in New York. I want a local company and I want to do business locally because we are a local business. It really was extremely disappointing to see these sudden changes that have really taken away from the local aspects of the Patch. This is coming from numerous consumers, not only ourselves, but read through the comments and you'll see there are many that are none too pleased with this "new" direction. We have made the decision not to advertise locally with Patch until it becomes a true local source again as it was.
Bren February 11, 2014 at 03:16 PM
Here in Pacifica, California, we, and the entire Coastside (including Half Moon Bay, Montara, Princeton, etc.) relied heavily on Patch, because none of the major newspapers have any interest in covering our towns. Go look at Pacifica Patch now, and you'll see no Pacifica or Coastside stories at all. Pacifica Patch editor Christa Bigue has been laid off, and with her departure, all the Pacifica coverage has evaporated. What is the solution? I sure hope Patch doesn't think unpaid contributors can fill the shoes of actual writers and editors. All you have to do is look at Yelp to see what a bad idea that is.
K-9 Klean Up LLC February 11, 2014 at 06:19 PM
@Patch. What we loved about the Patch was the local community was a part of it. We had people here locally in Loganville, GA who knew the areas, knew the people, we would see the local news and local happenings. It's what drew us to the Patch, but now we see the shift in not just local information but much more around the country and all of the local Patch employees have been, to put is nicely, "dismissed". It's removed all of the local features and local home fee it once had. We do hope that as time progresses they will see that what made Patch great was the local aspects of being able to do more within our local communities, sharing and contributing here locally. We thought that was the purpose of the Patch and it's what we loved and as it bleeds away, it's what we miss most.
Patch February 11, 2014 at 09:46 PM
@K-9 Klean Up LLC -- Understand your frustration. We had to make some fairly radical changes to stabilize Patch, and we're making progress, slowly but surely. There was a discussion today about hiring another reporter in GA, ASAP, and we're trying to supplement editors in other regions as well. We know local news is what readers want. Hoping you give us a shot to deliver it in a sustainable way -- we're working hard to get there. Thanks for the comments.
siobhan hullinger February 11, 2014 at 10:46 PM
@Patch - whomever you are but it seems like you may be or have set yourself up to be an access point - I've stopped following my local "Patch" to see what would happen as a casual observer. I understand this is not a scientific controlled model BUT this is what I see: local - meaning MY TOWN - is often pushed to the right column as either local voices, the board or what have you and the articles in the main highlight are things like: foods that make your skin glow or articles with comments that you have to occasionally scroll down through 80 plus most popular stories that all have the same heading in or de to get to the actual comment section. Not for nothing but we're in the middle of budget review for all cost centers and our local editor went to ALL of the meetings and posted pertinent information regarding the local races, the individuals involved and the controversy. Heck, we have a local born American Idol contestant but our "local" editor doesn't know…. You are asking for free reporting by the cohorts without the local feel. I'm willing to cautiously check in once in a while but the movement is in the wrong direction. Don't try to simulate Facebook, twitter or huffington post…be your own identity ..be local
Patch February 11, 2014 at 11:19 PM
@siobhan Thanks and understood. Patch wants to 'be local,' as you say, and at many many of our sites, we have local editors in place as before. I don't know what Patch you read, but it's likely that it is Patch that is receiving reduced attention. That's the unfortunate result of our efforts to right the ship of a company that was losing millions of dollars and in danger of shutting down. We're early in the game, but already we're adding editors back into some Patches. And yes, we understand that if your Patch has been affected, it's cold comfort to hear that other Patches are getting local coverage as they did before. You're not, and that's what you're seeing. We get it. We're trying to take a long view however. We want to be able to provide local coverage in a sustainable way. That means we have to grow into it. AOL made a big bet with Patch. In a year or so, they expanded by adding hundreds upon hundreds of Patches. It was well-intentioned effort to give a lot of communities the kind of coverage you're saying you want. But it was also risky because it was so expensive. Many of the towns where Patches were established didn't have the advertising base necessary to support a full-time editor, and so those sites -- and there were many many of them -- lost money. A lot of it. It's easy to say now with the benefit of hindsight, but Patch would have been much better off expanding slowly, in a bootstrapped mode, setting up shop in communities that could actually support the cost of local editor and salesperson, on a town-by-town basis. That didn't happen, and here we are. We're now back in the lean growth mode Patch was in before the rapid expansion. One bit of good news is that people like you and those commenting in this thread clearly want local news -- so there's a demand for it. Now if we can grow in a careful and intelligent way, we think we can provide that local coverage in a way we can sustain. We've made some incredible progress in the last few weeks in getting our house in order. We're going to improve the site significantly, and we will be adding editorial resources wherever we can justify it. We're hoping you'll pull for us. It's not going to be easy, but we're committed.
Bren February 11, 2014 at 11:32 PM
"Patch" said: "It makes sense. Why should an interesting story in a Patch community be walled off to the rest of the world? That's not really how the Internet works." I'll tell you why that interesting story in a Patch community should be walled off from the rest of the world: Because I live in PACIFICA, and I look to Patch to provide me with news that is about Pacifica or its neighboring cities, such as Daly City and San Bruno. A decision by the Pacifica City Council might be very relevant to me. Something the City Council in Parma, Ohio did would not be relevant to me, and having it show up on Patch as a "trending topic" is neither helpful, nor interesting. If I want to see trending topic crap that's gone viral, I can always subject myself to garbage like Buzzfeed or Upworthy. That's not what Patch is for.
siobhan hullinger February 11, 2014 at 11:33 PM
@Patch - I totally get the financial picture as well as the "growth too soon scenario". I do .. truly ..but when i look at who the current owners are and my personal knowledge of that industry, I can't help but feel the new and improved is nothing more than positioning for sell. I believe there is a model for success and if I had the time to seek and design an investment strategy, I would. I don't doubt that there are committed employees, I'm just not sure there is a committed owner to local. The sales marketing piece has always been missing. I purchased ad space early on and it was a disaster. Quality can never replace quantity. Marketing folks who are worth anything will always take a commission over salary. If you don't pay based on results, then you get what you get. Again, not offering a fee for subscription by the current majority owner tells me, this new strategy is for the short term. Sorry to say. My community truly needed an objective eye and now it's lost to a biased medium that isn't interested in real journalism. For the record, my "local" was Sudbury Patch in Massachusetts.
Patch February 12, 2014 at 12:05 AM
@siobhan You've raised this before. It's frankly based entirely on conjecture and assumptions. Hale doesn't have a track record of flipping their acquisitions -- to the contrary -- but as previously addressed, if any owner were to crack the code of the hyperlocal problem by implementing a sustainable business model, it's really irrelevant if they hold or sell to a media company that can leverage that success into even bigger success, because at that point, Patch will be a self-perpetuating business. As for subscriptions, it's puzzling that you insist that is somehow the decision to offer subscriptions or not indicates anything at all about how long a company will hold Patch. Paywalling Patch would greatly impact traffic, which would then adversely affect regional and national advertising -- the very things that are succeeding at Patch. It would be folly to give up large national advertising deals for the uncertainty of subscriptions. Right now, only a few publications can justify subs and those tend to be very high-end publications (NYT, WSJ, The Economist, The New Yorker) with exclusive readerships. There are some local news outlets that offer subs, but they are few and far between. So the case for subs at Patch is questionable. We've heard a lot from readers in the last couple of weeks, but one thing we don't hear a lot of them say is "Charge me a subscription."
christopher papazoglow February 12, 2014 at 12:21 AM
I'm one you'll hear it from. I don't mind paying a reasonable subscription price. As an addition to ( not so as to exclude, or "instead of" ) whatever revenue you generate from the advertisements. If that's what it's going to take for Patch to again get actual LOCAL issues covered, being able to again have someone local TO cover those issues ( rather than one "editor" for 20 Patches , as is the case in my area )......
christopher papazoglow February 12, 2014 at 12:24 AM
And i'm certainly not the first one to say this.
siobhan hullinger February 12, 2014 at 09:02 AM
@Patch - Since the question of subscription service was never presented to the local Patch readers as a way to sustain their local editor, we'll never know.
Debbie Stauffer February 16, 2014 at 11:34 AM
Biggest mistake was letting Chris Dehnel go. He made the Vernon Patch what it WAS. No interest anymore.
Bob McBride February 16, 2014 at 11:55 AM
The paywall model isn't working real well anywhere. People are reluctant to pay for what they can get elsewhere for free, even if the free version isn't quite as good as the pay version. Had Patch stayed as it was prior to any of the changes that have occurred on the system over the past year and decided they were going to start charging for the service, I doubt anyone would have jumped at the opportunity to pay for what they'd been getting for free since the the service's inception. ::::::: While I'm not at all happy with what we have now, I think we're stuck with it. The service is in the hands of a turnaround company. Despite claims to the contrary, these types of operations don't hold onto things for the long term. Turnaround and turn over. The minute they feel they're operating in the black and have a marketable entity (either as a whole or in parts) they'll be approaching possible suitors and attempting to move it at a profit.
Bob McBride February 16, 2014 at 12:54 PM
I also can't help but note the irony in how a company that operates its own network of news outlets seems to be losing control of the story. Not that this was much different when AOL was solely in charge, but it really makes no sense. A lot of confusion, resentment, frustration and, possibly, loss of readership (not to mention advertisers) could be avoided if the TPTB would get out in front of this. Acknowledge the changes that have occurred, try to put together a realistic, communicable plan that includes at least a fuzzy timeline and broadcast it across the network using the prime spot on every page and leave it there for awhile - a week if you have to. Assign a few folks to monitoring the questions and concerns as they come up and address them - promptly. It's quite obvious from the posts in the comment sections attached to virtually every story that many users don't understand what happened, what's going on now and why. At the very least you can make that clear, even if you don't have a rock solid plan going forward. There's honestly no excuse for any company in this business, regardless of how short of time they've been in the business, allowing disinformation and misinformation to plague its own system in such a fashion as it is here.
Patch February 16, 2014 at 01:20 PM
@Bob McBride Very interesting points. We actually don't see our role as "controlling the story." We aren't here to spin. We've been leaving all these comments up and engaging in the conversation precisely because we think Patch ought to be an open place where the conversation is free-flowing and candid. We also know that when it comes to Patch, talk is cheap. We've felt that there is so much skepticism about Patch because of the past that the only thing that matters is what we do, not what we say. If you doubt this, just read some of the responses to our efforts to explain what's happening in this thread. Users are deeply skeptical. You don't overcome that level of skepticism by trying to control a narrative. You overcome it by making meaningful changes that people can see -- by making Patch more valuable to its users. This is the beginning of a very long process - one that will be measured certainly in months not days or weeks. The most unpleasant changes have all been front-loaded by virtue of the fact that we took the deeply unpleasant steps necessary to get Patch in the black and in a growth mode right out of the gate. We are now slowly and carefully adding editors. We are hard at work on a total redesign of the entire clunky platform. We are working seven days a week to find ways to give our advertisers more and better options for reaching and connecting with customers. Those are real changes that users will see and that trump any public relations effort we might undertake.
Bob McBride February 16, 2014 at 01:57 PM
So you honestly think the best you can do in terms of protecting the investment Hale has made in Patch is to sporadically address concerns in a comment section attached to a single article? There's nothing attached to the name you're using, other than your say so, that suggests you're even actually an employee of Patch. Seriously, if this is all the effort you guys are willing to expend to protect your investment, you deserve to crash and burn. Frankly it sounds to me like you're making excuses here for people who haven't got a plan and who have so little understanding of what they've bought into here that they're afraid of sounding clueless were they were to address the concerns expressed here, head on. Nobody cares if you're at work seven days a week if they have no idea what you're working on or if most of them aren't even aware you're doing so, because you've buried that information in a single comment section. Right now most of them are wondering what the hell happened to the service they've grown fond of over the years. The answers, if I'm to believe you actually are someone with the company, are hidden in on obscure comment section and amount to "trust us, we know what we're doing". It's your funeral. Maybe a year from now when you guys are busy devouring yourselves from the inside because both revenue and users have dwindled down to almost nothing, you'll remember this discussion.
christopher papazoglow February 16, 2014 at 10:11 PM
@Patch- SO ASK THE QUESTION, ALREADY. "Would you be willing to pay (x amount per x) so as to help offset the cost of having truly local content restored to your srea Patch ? For example, being able to once again pay the salary (-ies) of the person or persons who covered local issues so well in your local Patch ?"
Reader February 16, 2014 at 10:53 PM
@Christopher The question isn't so easily asked. Each Patch has a different profile - serves a different size population, has a wide range of unique visitors and page views, has a different sized advertising base (or none at all). So the sub fee per user that would pay for a reporter in one community might not come close to paying for a reporter in another. That's one of the many reasons why hyperlocal is hard - every community is different. Would Patch users really put up with different subs fees for different Patches? Wouldn't people complain that they were paying more than users a few towns over? And then there is the problem that a paywall would cut traffic and therefore regional and national advertising revenue. Subs would have to be high enough to offset that loss as well - prohibitively so in most cases.
christopher papazoglow February 16, 2014 at 11:26 PM
@Reader...some of your argument sounds reasonable, on the surface. But is ANY of it reason enough to not even EXPLORE the idea, to NOT make any attempt to get real numbers data from the readers ?
Bryan Bentley February 16, 2014 at 11:58 PM
I feel compelled to say a few words on behalf of Patch. I expressed some of my criticisms when the big change came. I was approached by a Patch employee, and we had a back and forth, and I walked away thinking that maybe it would be worth it to continue to blog, and maybe even ,make an effort at providing some content as well. I am doing this because it is the best platform for me to write blogs,m which is a fun hobby for me. I can tell you without reservation that Patch has helped me every step of the way in learning how to reach as many local people as possible. I am no tech expert. I am no journalist. But with the help of Tara at Patch, I am learning quickly, and having a blast. I have met a few new friends locally, and am grateful for the help. I gave Patch a chance, and they rewarded that loyalty with all the help I need, and the result is that the Plymouth-Canton Patch Facebook page is actually growing in followers and "likes." I haven't followed the conversation on this thread too carefully, but I wanted to share that. Now I am realistic enough to know that it could all go away tomorrow, and that is fine, but for now, I am going to enjoy myself, and try to grow the numbers. I am going by the premise that if I am not going to be part of the solution, then I am just part of the problem. :)
Bren February 17, 2014 at 12:15 AM
Bryan Bentley, I assume you're not getting paid for the content you provide? There's nothing wrong with that if the personal fulfillment you derive from this relationship is payment enough, in your mind. But what we've seen is a major downsizing in which tons of paid writers and editors were eliminated, and your willingness to provide content for free only takes away whatever incentive Patch might have to hire and pay new writers. Obviously, it's an apples and oranges comparison on some level, because a blogger is not the same thing as a news reporter, but still... I don't know. I looked to Patch for local news, and people blogging for personal fulfillment can't exactly fill the void that was left when the local news reporters and editors were laid off.
christopher papazoglow February 18, 2014 at 12:30 PM
Personally, @Reader and @Patch, i thnk THE way to assess whether readers "will go for it" (paying for subscription) is ASK them and see what THEY have to say. It's all fine and good that business professionals have weighed in with analysis, in the comments here and elsewhere. But take a minute to go back and reread this article. What worked for the local Patch that i paid the most attention to was a reporter/editor who covered pretty much ALL the local issues (city council, planning, waterfront, police and fire, transportation alerts, other genuinely local issues), and did his best to provide balance and detail. He was let go, along with several others in the area, and now that Patch along with 19 others is "edited" by ONE person who hardly ever posts ANYTHING, and whom is certainly in not able to cover the events/issues of 20 + seperate local communities. During thise time since the mass firing, one city council meeting has occured, which was summarized by a local blogger. And the "local" editor has republished a few "regional" articles from other news sources and a couple of alerts which were published too late to be of significance. Local bloggers have provided SOME content, but thus far there is little effort to cover any of the ground that the fired editor did. So ASK the readers "Would be willing to pay a subscription price in order to have local coverage restored ?"

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