SUNDAY COLUMN | Once upon a time a major media corporation believed hyperlocal was the key to journalism’s revival. AOL and then the Huffington Post put this belief in Patch. The idea was good, except Patch wasn’t hyperlocal, it was just local, in a Web site-only format. Although speaking of Patch in past tense may seem inaccurate today, there are numerous Bay Area and national instances where its post-mortem is already being written.
A year after I gauged a similar opening in the local media, soon came along Patch to the East Bay. It appeared to be a very significant competitor to the East Bay Citizen, potentially on the government front, however they never came close to mastering the bread of butter of local journalism, the City Hall beat. The breezy preferences for producing local stories in bulk rather than any semblance of quality quickly turned its reputation from the Web site backed by AOL into the land of diminishing returns boldly lead by the Oakland Tribune and Daily Review. In short, something for the locals to scoff about.
A few months after the San Leandro Patch debuted in late 2010, I correctly forecasted its inherent weaknesses. The madness of one reporter covering an entire city from top-to-bottom like the daily newspapers was insanity. No one person exists who could seamlessly travel from the City Hall beat to the arts and entertainment beat to schools and other topics and do a good job and if they could, they would surely be burned out in six months.
This situation has lead to reporters being let go and the parent corporation asking for even more stories from its editors with even less time. The cutbacks have been frequent, but lately they have turned the various Web sites in jokes where the simple release of unemployment statistics is broken down into basically the same story in every Patch site in the East Bay, only replaced by which city it covers and the requisite unemployment percentage. Two weeks ago, a few Patch sites, in a renewed effort to attract citizen bloggers, promoted on their front pages differing movie reviews of the film World War Z. The drive for any content whatsoever had always been a problem. In some city’s like San Leandro and Dublin the mayor of each respective city used Patch as their own public relations forum. How could you possibly be trusted to follow City Hall if the mayor is your star columnist? (Hello, San Francisco Chronicle and Willie Brown!).
Patch’s big mistake is that it overestimated its worth to prospective reporters. My view was the site offered hard-working bloggers and reporters no inherent value in terms of promoting themselves and their wares. Patch was a bit like an individual McDonald’s franchise. However, if you are willing to work the beat hard and say have your own special recipes for hamburgers tastier than McDonald’s why would you waste your energy for someone else’s profit?
In the end, Patch tried to do everything well at the same time and striving to perform without even a whiff of mediocrity. What did it believe in? What was it goals? Who knows? And if they could tell youo what? It would likely amount to a 250-word posting, or even, more insanely, posed as a question just to entice you join the fray and add a comment. “Do you think Patch could have informed you better? Your thoughts?”
In the meantime, the East Bay Citizen raced over 1 million visitors two weeks ago with a fraction of one Patch site’s budget and a priceless reputation for keeping local government as clean as possible. But, just think if Patch was a success. Joel Young would be running amok today in the State Assembly, two Hayward school board members might be using Nadia Lockyer’s sex video as a means of foreplay and Rep. Eric Swalwell would be succeeding in fooling the entire region he’s most faithful Democrat since F.D.R. The truth, however, is stranger than fiction in the East Bay.
“Rather than address the issues, he wants to say, ‘I’m not worse than anybody else.’ He counterpunches and he thinks that’s effective and then kind of flails away.”
–Greg Harper, the president of the AC Transit Board of Directors June 26 on fellow Board Director Joel Young.
The Week That Was
>>>BART Strike, Part 1?: At the end of four days, BART management and union negotiators decided to extend their old agreement another month. Commuters hoped back on BART, but the threat of another transit upheaval still exists in another month. Why strike in the first place and put the rank-and-file up for public abuse if they were just going to return to work without a resolution? The unions are strong in these parts, but not always the most well-oiled machine, or, BART train.
>>>Censure on the horizon: AC Transit Board Director Joel Young may be censure by his colleagues after an investigation found he may have violated various board policies for conflict of interest. Young’s response to the allegations did nothing to sway the board. A resolution is being drawn up for its next meeting that could censure Young. If approved, it would be the board’s first censure since 2000.
>>>Out of the office: An investigation into former Hayward superintendent Dr. Donald Evans’s 20 months as head of its school district found he missed 50 days on the job, due to vacations, absences and education conferences, by itself, cost HUSD over $16,000. Comparatively, the time out of the office was considerably greater than those of other superintendents in the East Bay. Evans left Hayward in June for the same job in Berkeley.
Tweet of The Week
“So tired of hearing you bitch and whine about how long your commute took because of traffic. If you are driving, you ARE the traffic.”
-@cynthia_says tweets July 1 this astute observation about #BARTstrike.
>>>The transportation divide revealed itself in the recent BART strike. While most of us scrambled for limited transit options, the growing upper class of Google-ites and other Silicon Valley elites were nearly unaffected. (New York Magazine, July 2).
>>>In recent months we’ve heard national voices opine about California’s turnaround under Gov. Jerry Brown. Now here’s how the changes in this state—redistricting—and reform (ending the filibuster in Congress) can help out Democrats in Washington (New Republic, July 1).
Voice of the People
“If Joel Young is as sleazy as the reports over the past year or so on, his alleged conduct would seem to suggest, then the California State Bar should arrange to have appointed as a special master.”
–MW, the long-time EBC commenter with a distinct disdain for lawyers, July 4, on “Young’s Written Response To Allegations Against Him May Revealed More Closed Session Info, Say Critics”.