A reputable business website is reporting that AOL is about to expand an experiment big time. Business Insider is reporting that a community-based news website called Patch.com, which is owned by AOL, plans to expand from a couple dozen sites to hundreds across the country.
Patch.com is a group of the web version of community newspapers. In towns like Darien, CT or Garden City, NY the websites cover community news, provide information about events and businesses and allow people to interact with each other on the web. The beauty of these sites is that they provide coverage of towns that often get ignored by bigger media. And a lot of studies are showing this is exactly the kind of relevant, two-way journalism that people are craving.
So, why is this good news on the job front? Two reasons. For young journalists and recent college graduates, this means hundreds of new jobs out there, and jobs that are being filled by young, multi-tasking, tech-savvy people. Not only are these great first jobs for young journalists, but they also can lead to other multi-media jobs in the future. These sights also provide opportunities for freelancers to do some extra work and for people in the community to develop skills as citizen journalists.
The second reason is not quite as obvious, but is just as, if not more, important. I believe these sites, just as community newspapers used to do, help build up and strengthen local businesses. As people in a community become fans of these sites, local businesses can advertise cheaply and draw in new customers. As local businesses strengthen, as opposed to shutting down because of a bad economy, they thrive, grow and provide new jobs. While there have been a lot of overstatements about how many jobs small businesses provide, these days any new job creation is a good thing!
So, my hat is off to Patch.com for an effort to provide meaningful news coverage in smaller communities, providing jobs for young, aspiring journalists, and for doing its part to help revive the economy.