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Patch-work quilt blanketing the country

August 18: Morristown, which served as George Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War, had a hand in Patch.com’s continuing evolution of new media yesterday when the New Jersey town became the location for its 100th site.

The Morristown site is the newest in the blanket of Patch sites that have sprung up in Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Virginia. In February 2009, Patch.com launched with a modest three sites. By the end of 2010, Aol’s hyperlocal endeavor is slated to have launched in a total of 500 neighborhoods across the country.

With each Patch site run by a local editor, help wanted ads can be found in a variety of places, from Romenesko to Journlismjobs.com. According to a press release, Patch is expected to hire 500 journalists to match its 500 neighborhoods. “Our goal is to ‘digitize’ every town in America, giving them a place for relevant news and information that’s always up to date and a community hub where journalists, contributors and residents can share information,” Warren Webster, president of Patch Media, said in an e-mail interview.

Although the plan eventually calls for Patch to invade the entire country, Webster noted there is a method behind the markets they have picked so far. Public high school ranking, connectivity and retail spending were all taken into consideration. “We also look for markets that have passionate, engaged residents and a strong sense of community,” he said. “While we do have a local editor for each Patch, we rely too on community members engaging with the site.”

However, just because a news source has  passion and energy does not necessarily make a news organization a reputable source, noted Vikki Porter, director of the Knight Digital Media Center. “Patch.com is one of those interesting experiments, with a very nice $50 million pot of gold to carry them along until they show a new business model will support their network,” she said in an e-mail interview. “They are still in the first stages of trying to establish themselves in the geographic/demographic landscape. They are still trying to figure the same things out a lot of smaller operations are fretting about.”

Patch may be a behemoth, but other community news sites have popped up across the country as well “I don’t know if anyone can quantify what’s happening in this space,” Porter said. “Basically, there is no question there’s been a significant increase in the number of people/organizations trying to launch local news sites.” As a result, the Media Center has held two News Entrepreneur Boot Camps for journalists who have good ideas for sites but are novices when it comes to marketing or business.

Back at Patch, there are plans to venture into communities in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin before the year is out. “You’ll see us build more Patches across the country this year, and you’ll also see each individual Patch get deeper with the news and information it provides to citizens and their communities,” Webster said.

Since Patch’s arrival last year, Webster said he believes Patch has been received well by the community, and by other news organizations with which it frequently shares links. “We believe that anyone contributing to the ecosystem of local news and information is good for everyone,” he said.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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