Both the Los Angeles Times and businessinsider.com blasted the earning potential of the Patch site for Manhattan Beach, which is more than twice the size of most existing Patch communities in Massachusetts. It also has a median household income of more than $100,000 that enables AOL to charge more for local ads than it could somewhere like Melrose, where that number is closer to $68,000 for fewer than 14,000 residents. On top of that, AOL reported a $1 billion loss in the second quarter of 2010 alone; the Patch investment represents less than two percent of that, but the number is daunting nonetheless.
"We love it when people say that [the Patch revenue model is not viable] — it may keep competitors from coming after us," says Patch Editor-In-Chief Brian Farnham, who is optimistic but still compares the AOL undertaking to "building a bus as it's barreling down the road."
"People can do the math from their vantage point," Farnham says, "but we know what we know, and we're hell-bent on proving that a Patch can work in any community."
With young and hungry reporters scrambling for scoops in small towns and cities coast to coast, it's inevitable that ambitious endeavors like Patch and Your Town will be watched important journalistic experiments. After all, no one is sure of what the future holds, and news organizations are waiting impatiently for successful formulas. As for which sites will prevail and which will fail, that fate will ultimately lie with consumers.
"We'll stand on our own two feet and let readers decide if they want to choose a professional news organization," Globe editor Dahl says.
"That sounds like a lot [of competition]," says NYU professor and longstanding community-journalism advocate Jay Rosen about the crowded Massachusetts press-scape. "But I can't see any scenario in which the market doesn't take care of this. Can you?"
Chris Faraone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story omitted the year that AOL acquired Patch.