Problems With The Patch

logoMy dream is that someone from the Patch will read this and actually make it better.

If I can’t have that, at least I hope that local government and political teams will get some value from my perspective of what they are really dealing with when they post on the Patch.

There are hundreds of Patch sites, so my observations may not apply to every single one. But I’ve seen the same thing time and again and have to believe there is a theme that comes from direction being given at a high level.

What Is The Patch?

The Patch is hyper-local news where a website is created and devoted to a very specific region, often just one town or city. The Patch hires paid editors who write some articles, but it also encourages local residents to blog.

It’s a good idea. I’m interested in what’s happening in my town. Prior to the Patch, local news online came from the online version of a local newspaper. Local newspapers weren’t usually devoted to an area as small as a town, and certainly didn’t offer the opportunity for residents to participate in creating content like the Patch does.

ThereĀ can be value in letting residents participate in creating content. But it’s not a slam dunk.

The Role of the Editor

The editor has to do two things. She has to create valuable content by acting as a reporter. And she has to manage the community of content providers who blog and comment. Let’s look at each separately.

A Patch editor is a reporter. She writes content for her Patch site and is relied upon by the community to provide updated, unbiased information. Given the small town, close nature of Patch segments, it’s easy for Patch editors to get to know the players about whom they typically write. Patch editors have the same challenge as any reporter – you need to maintain good relationships in order to get stories, but you can’t compromise your journalistic integrity.

Patch editors need to know how to be good journalists.

At the same time, Patch editors have to be community managers. The Patch encourages residents to blog. It encourages residents to comment. It is the online news source for an existing, physical community but it is an online community as well.

Sounds good, right?

Where Things Go Wrong

I suspect that Patch editors are measured in some way on traffic. I’ve seen Patch editors allow inflammatory comments to stand that any other community manager would squash. The kind of discussion I’ve seen take place on the Patch certainly doesn’t encourage people to post. But unfortunately, it does make people want to read. People love a train wreck. And when things get nasty, my guess is that it drives traffic.

The Patch used to have a policy (though I never saw it enforced by my local Patch or those in surrounding towns) that users had to post under their real names. That policy was changed and now pseudonyms are allowed. On a site that is built around a small physical community, I am not sure this is useful.

Would you be nasty online to someone who you know by name? Would you say the same things under a fake name as you would if the whole town and world knew it were you? I’m guess not.

If the Patch really wanted to build a community, it might consider not letting people post under pseudonyms. Though this might make for some good drama, it doesn’t make for quality news and close community.

So how can local governments and political groups make use of the Patch given all its <ahem> challenges?

That’s coming in my next post. Check back or sign up to receive posts by email so you don’t miss it.

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