You should only work this hard if you own the business

The list of duties for Patch editors in this Romenesko post is pretty much the job description for every local news site owner I know, at least the ones making a living at it.

When I’ve written about the number of hours I put into my business critics have said I don’t have a business model, my business isn’t “sustainable,” and so on.

Of course, this is coming from people who probably don’t want to work that hard, preferring the good old corporatism days of journalism with secure 9-5 jobs, two weeks paid vacation and dental coverage. Those days are disappearing, but the knock against hyperlocal start ups is that they’re not staffed as bodaciously as the newsrooms they may or may not replace.

To the second point, my response remains: Newspapers started small, cheap and with different standards. No newspaper started with staffs of dozens and a raft of Pulitzers. To hold an online-only start up to those standards is just plain daft.

To the issue of hard work, yes it’s hard work to start your own business, and I figure the critics of the online start ups have never dealt much with small business owners.

I deal with them every day, and for any of them that started their own businesses, they will readily tell you of the 100-hour work weeks, the weeks of just barely getting by and the impossibly long to-do lists. The hardships and sacrifices just go with the territory of starting your own business.

But here’s the thing about the work load for Patch editors: They’re not owners. They are expected to do all of the things they would have to do if they owned their own web sites, but merely in service of building wealth for AOL shareholders. Sure, work hard and keep your job is a nice benefit, and as a former corporate employee I think employees have an ethical obligation to help build shareholder value. That’s what they’re paid to do.

I’ve also been critical of corporate employees who aren’t willing to put in a little extra effort to help a project succeed.

However, if what we’re hearing is true about the Patch workload, I can only ask: Why are you doing it?

Patch editors should know that what they’re being asked to do on salary they could do for themselves far more successfully and with some chance of building a valuable business for themselves and their families.

I’m not writing this to wish Patch ill. I am not one to hope for anyone’s failure. I’m writing this for the sake of the seemingly overburdened Patch editors, and asking, “Why not just start your own local news site?”

Jump on in, the water’s fine.

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  • http://www.bjmendelson.com BJ Mendelson

    This sounds like further confirmation of what Nicholas Carr was talking about when he mentioned “The Sharecropper Model” for those “Web 2.0″ companies. Sorry. “Web 2.0″‘ has to be in quotes. It’s the only way I can write it. Without it, I’m just validating the buzzword.

    Anyway, I totally agree. Unfortunately, we’ve allowed the same people cashing in on these buzzwords to brainwash people into thinking that contributing to something like HuffPo or Patch is somehow beneficial to them when it clearly isn’t. I’m not quite sure how you fix it, but posts like this help.

  • http://twitter.com/welocally WeLocally

    What I don’t get is why do they do it? Many of these editors were successful bloggers with a local brand that people loved. Yeah they didn’t have hufpo channels but they were recognized and had a readership that trusted them. My honest opinion is that the trust is more valuable than the channel when it comes to hyper local, because as a referrer you are more valuable when you are trusted, and the channel isn’t that wide. We are hoping to enable local bloggers to have ways by giving them technologies to engage their readers with hyper local.

    • former patcher

      As a former local newsblogger and Patch editor, I can answer this question. I took the Patch job because I was tired of being harassed by local elected officials who didn’t appreciate the scrutiny my blog brought to bear. I tried repeatedly to raise the issue of “blogger bullying” with journo professors and others who should be interested in this real threat to open discourse–particularly as practiced by a lone editor on a hyperlocal basis–but without success. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an examination of the problem on any site that covers the hyperlocal business–maybe because so many hyperlocal sites are full of non-threatening community news and features. My goals was to go deeper than the superficial meeting coverage and I broke several big stories. But I also got a lot of pushback, which got tiresome to say the least.

      Regarding Patch, I agree it’s ridiculously to work so hard for another master. Unfortunately, many journalists lack sales skills (I’m one of them) and can’t afford to hire a sales professional. Again, I’d love to see more stories that address the problem.

      • http://twitter.com/howardowens Howard Owens

        You’re saying you couldn’t handle criticism? What are you doing in journalism? Patch is supposed to provide a shield from critics and assholes? I can’t relate.

        As for sales, easy problem to solve. Complete smokescreen.

        • former patcher

          Yeah, that must be it, Howard. I don’t belong in journalism, despite spending 25 years in it, at all levels, and of course coming in for my share of criticism along the way. I simply didn’t appreciate the continuous personal harassment–the kind that comes from uncovering major stories other community news organizations wouldn’t touch because they’re too concerned with getting along and going along. There was no Authentically Local or hyperlocal trade organization at the time, with which to share strategies and best practices–something I hope both those groups are planning to do. If sales is an easy problem to solve, perhaps that something these groups can help with. It wasn’t easy for me and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

          Dis me if you wish, Howard, although I would have prefered a thoughtful discussion on issues should be of interest the entire hyperlocal community. In any case, my work speaks for itself.

          • former patcher

            Excuse the typos. Posting on the fly.

          • http://howardowens.com Howard Owens

            Nobody dissed you. I simply can’t relate to somebody who says they can’t handle criticism of their news reporting, so much so that it would drive them into the arms of Patch, as you indicate.

            There’s been no trade organization or even a Facebook group, as there is now, to seek solace in when I was starting out. I just did it. I put up with what I put up with and worried about what I had to worry about and I just did it. I didn’t need Patch to help me. Do you see how I simply can’t relate what you’re saying? That’s not a dis, it’s saying I don’t live on that planet.

  • http://howardowens.com Howard Owens

    Actually, I don’t think too many of them were local bloggers who took the Patch bucks. All the people I know who were offered jobs by Patch instead of running their own sites said no.

    The best local editors are former print journalists who lost their print jobs. Then there is a class of talented recent grads. And then there are inexperienced journalists of various stripes who are dragging the whole brand down.

    Either of the first two types could be successful local publishers rather than working for “The Man.”

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  • Lindsey Chester

    So True! Hence why Patch is just not a good Business model. They say they are hyper local, but in fact their employees aren’t from the areas they report on. They have got it all wrong form top down. We have ben running CaryCitizen for over 2 years and are consistently gathering steam. We have local buy-in form writers, photographers, and advertisers because we write about what we know and do it 3 times a day with original content. We could write EVEN MORE per day, but it would be too much. Those complaining journalists should just quit and do us all a favor and let Patch die a slow quiet death

  • http://brian23.com Brian

    Many journalists I know don’t want to be running their own business, even if running a Patch site is essentially the same thing. Sometimes the perception that they’re not is enough to draw them in perhaps.

  • Smoothguy82

    Dear Howard, … you should please open the closed shrine again, incl. all your awesome writing about Country Dick Montana´s LIFE !! Think about it, please !!!!!!!!!!!!

    • http://howardowens.com Howard Owens

      Thanks for the suggestion/reminder. I’ll have to see if I can find the HTML files.

  • http://twitter.com/MichelleRafter MichelleRafter

    There are individuals within every profession with the drive and passion it takes to run a small business, journalism included. As a long-time self-employed former newspaper reporter I know and interact with dozens of like-minded entrepreneurial journalists on a regular basis. And hyperlocal news isn’t the only option. I could understand that lack of health insurance and other safety nets that a corporate job provide could hold some back. But are Patch editors employees or contractors? If it’s the latter, then I have to agree w/you that there’s no point in working that hard for someone else when you’re not getting benefits and could make more on your own.

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  • Anonymous

    As a Patch editor, I’d just like to chime in here. My aspiration is to one day start my own hyperlocal venture. I love what I do right now for Patch, and if Patch ended tomorrow, I would probably start up my own site the next day. Until that day comes, I’m happy building value for shareholders while limiting my risk and building my experience. Every month, I take another close look at my risk and my experience, and when the equation is favorable, I’ll probably make the leap.

    • http://howardowens.com Howard Owens

      A very reasonable approach. When you launch your site, let me know.

      Also, while you’re at Patch, you’re building your brand — keep making friends and getting your name out there. In a way, that way, Patch is helping to finance your start up.

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