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Patch.com tries to serve hyperlocal to underserved communities

July 1, 2011

Holly Edgell, Patch.com St. Louis regional editor

By Aren Dow
Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville

In an industry seemingly in the midst of a downward slide, Patch.com has expanded their business by taking the paper out of newspaper. Holly Edgell, regional editor for Patch, discussed the organization’s recipe for the future at the Mid-America Press Institute’s “Covering sports today and tomorrow” seminar June 27 in St. Louis.

Patch.com, a subsidiary of AOL, has moved into small and suburban communities they have identified as having a dearth of news coverage and providing “hyperlocal” coverage. And in an industry that has seen massive layoffs and even closures, they have expanded to 800 communities since 2009.

The keyword they latch onto is “hyperlocal,” meaning they cover areas they may not be covered by major metropolitan papers. Edgell said the new company does not venture in covering big cities like Chicago or Milwaukee.

“We feel cities are very well served already. We go to areas not served or less served,” Edgell said.

Which communities Patch covers are heavily influenced by school districts. Edgell said the citizens of those communities play a large part in growing the website, from blogging, uploading calendar events and writing restaurant reviews.

“We try to serve as a community hub,” Edgell said. “You’ll be amazed at what kind of community feeling will bubble up.”

Having a reporter close to the area they are serving – Edgell said 10 minutes away or less – is something Patch considers essential. Edgell said Patch wants the communities to know they have a reporter in the area serving them and only them. And where they work is mostly up to the reporter.

“The office is wherever the computer is,” Edgell said.

And that reporter needs to know how to do more than write. While it doesn’t need to be on a professional level, Edgell said they need to know how to take basic photos or video – or at least be willing to learn.

“We try to be fair with what expectations are,” Edgell said. “It behooves you to have your own toolkit no matter where you go.”

In an effort to grow the individual communities, Edgell said she will recommend stories from other news outlets, something she acknowledges is considered a “crazy idea” by most.

Patch is looking to expand to 200 more communities in this year alone, with an emphasis on the primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

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