Patch Layoffs Are A Loss Everyone Will Bear


August 8, 2013

Imagine you are presented with a peanut butter sandwich. Nothing else on it. Dry. Makes your mouth sticky.

Can I have some jam or honey on that? Or maybe cucumbers?

“Nope. There isn’t any of that. Just peanut butter. All month.”

For months you eat your unappetizing peanut butter sandwich, wishing for jam. Until one day the sandwich maker says, “Sorry. No more sandwiches.”

And for most of the places Patch.com covers, that’s what’s about to happen. No more peanut butter sandwiches, no more town or neighborhood news. This is terrible news. Yes, there are places with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, great locally-operated hyperlocals like Baristanet.com, Sheepsheadbites.com, but there are only about 150 functional indie sites while Patch is (today) about 850 sites, and even after tomorrow’s reductions, still twice as big as the indie effort.

Like so many news operations, Patch has been horribly operated, and the fascination for so many of us with a history in news, is that the horrible choices were so obvious, yet golem-like, the company continued to stagger on. If it wasn’t the management bloat, the unclear editorial directives, the overworked local editors, the slashed freelance budgets or whatever, you knew it was because there was no clear revenue path, as the value of local ad placement was eroded every day by increasingly effective digital ad exchanges.

Despite all the awfulness, Patch was a bright, shining light of possibility: Maybe, just maybe they’ll use all those resources to experiment enough and actually make something that works, we all hoped.

But now it is crashing down and hundreds of millions of dollars have been washed down the toilet, spooking investors and killing many news startup hopes. Tim Armstrong and his crew of starry-eyed believers have made it worse for the rest of us. Because of Patch’s foolishness, every conversation about growing or creating a news organization, big or small, will require an explanation why Patch’s spectacular failure doesn’t matter when trying to make local news work.

Yes, there are Bezos’ and Buffets, but those are the big name plays. The real news success is likely to come from smaller players, growing ideas organically. And now only rich, crazy guys will have the resources needed to build successful news organizations.

And that’s bad news for everyone.