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Learning hyperLOCAL… from Patch?

May 4, 2011

The folks at Patch are well aware that they haven’t always had the greatest reputation within journalism circles. But one thing is for sure, they are determined to become the leader in hyperlocal news.

Fighting for the same title (which seems rightfully theirs) newspapers are finding themselves wondering what else they can do in order to own the crown. Some newspapers are threatened by Patch, some feel it is a waste of money and effort. But like ’em or not, this national network of hyperlocal sites is currently covering community life in 800 towns across America. And growing. Fast.

Today, Arianna Huffington – Editor in Chief at Huffinton Post Media Group, announced a new partnership between AOL’s newly acquired Huffinton Post and Patch. So what will this mean for newspapers and their hyperlocal efforts? While it is certainly too early to tell what the end result will be, you’ve gotta admit that for now Patch is doing a few things right. 5 things, in fact…and it might not be a bad idea for newspapers to take note of how a major national company can appear to be right in our own backyard.

1. Complete transparency of editors. Every Patch community has a local editor. These folks are not just names on a masthead. They’re real people who allow their audience to get to know them via their biography page which contains: email, phone number, hometown, birthday, biography, beliefs, political disclosures, religious disclosures and opinion on local hot-button issues.

2. Accountability through editor news feeds. Every action an editor or reporter takes on a Patch site is documented, and is displayed in an easy to read format, similar to the facebook style news feeds. So if there is an error in a story, or an incorrect photo, we know which reporter is responsible; and then we know where to look for the correct information. You can also see things like the number of news feeds a particular editor is publishing, and perhaps get an idea as to how often they are communicating to their community.

3. Send us a news tip. Patch allows their audience to easily suggest news tips. When you submit a tip, the form clearly states who your tip will be emailed to. One example on a form is “Enter your tip here and it will be sent straight to Jenna Chandler, Copy Editor Joan Fantazia, and Laura Nott, San Juan Capistrano Patch’s (incredibly grateful) editors.” Note the personality in the language they use.

4. Topic-specific email notifications. I currently subscribe to more email newsletters than I care to read…and I know I’m not alone. Patch understands this, and that’s why they allow you to follow specific news stories and follow-up articles you are interested in. This way, you only get a few email notifications and only when a story of interest is updated.

5. News Q&A. Patch sites are equipped with a Q&A section where readers can ask questions for the community to answer and Patch reporters to answer as well. Readers love the ability to quickly get their questions out in the open and gain feedback from all.

Some say that newspapers might as well pack up and go home. I guess those folks just don’t realize that “newspapers” have packed up and gone home; and the multi-media companies that they’ve become will prevail.

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