With the ever-teetering state of the US economy, it’s a small wonder that many large newspaper companies have to really push to turn a profit, lest they fall prey to the insatiable beast known as “foreclosure.” So when large newspapers begin to hurt, it’s no surprise that the same could be said (if not more) for local papers. This is where Patch.com hopes to step in.
Patch.com is a self-proclaimed “hyperlocal” news site that, they say, is “a community-specific news and information platform dedicated to providing comprehensive and trusted local coverage for individual towns and communities.” Run by AOL, they wish to fill the gaps left by ailing news agencies in their coverage of local events. Currently, they have correspondents in cities of 23 states, and they have plans of growth over the next few years. But how exactly is this site needed?
According to Time correspondent Belinda Luscombe, after the closure of the Cincinnati Post, a paper with subscribers from Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, she says, “voter turnout dropped, fewer people ran for office and more incumbents were reelected.” She clarifies that it may have been a very concentrated occurrence, as only towns in northern Kentucky had elections that year, and she says, “it seemed that smaller towns were much less affected by newspaper closures than larger ones.” Unless a town stages events large enough to attract the attention of a larger district paper, much like the Telegram & Gazette does for Worcester county, town officials may have little way to tell its citizens of any planned events going on, and citizen interest can flatline.
But can Patch.com help with this? It seems to be a novel concept, but as far as the site goes now, I’ve hit some major shortcomings.
My first inclination upon arriving at Patch.com’s front page was to check for my own little hometown of Millbury, Massachusetts, where I hit the first snag. It’s not there. Neither are many towns and cities around the Worcester county area, and while the T&G swoops up large events, Millbury is also lacking notification for many events. This may be no direct fault of the staff of Patch.com, but it definitely ratchets my need for it to just about zero. A cursory glance over the rest of the cities listed and I see neither Amherst, nor most of Hampshire county, and yet again, the site fails to yield any credible reason for me to return. Perhaps I’m just not the audience Patch.com wants.
A more important issue I’m finding is that, while there may be many towns to choose from, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, the site provides very little to help you with that. No notable headlines for a state, region, or town are listed unless you go directly to the town itself. While giving the facade of an intuitive user-interface, once you wish to find out the news, you seem to have to know exactly what you’re looking for. Zero for two, Patch.com.