Patch.com: The challenge of connective community journalism in the digital sphere
Patch.com, an online-only community journalism platform owned by AOL.com, focuses on the reporting of local news in more than 900 communities across the United States. Community journalists, scholars say, show that they have some sort of involvement or stake in the stories that they report, and actively work to facilitate a sense of community connection among their readers (Hatcher 2012; Lauterer 2006). This study reviews how Patch attempts to make those linkages. The major questions that guided this research include: What kind of content is being produced by this first large-scale community journalism project that is now over five years old? What standards does this new genre member appear to be developing? And, finally, what sorts of judgments can be made about how this content reflects community journalism’s major tenets? This research finds, through a thematic analysis of local news on the Patch sites, that Patch uses its online-only presence to provide a community journalism that is (1) centered on certain story topics, (2) reliant on official sources, (3) limited in its use of links to outside sources, and (4) inherently built for-but struggling with-interactivity. In Patch’s case, all of these dynamics allow for critical questions about how well its sites envision the needs of its communities so as to report local news in a way that encourages a networking of interested physical and virtual communities.