Northfield Patch, hyperlocal news, and the future of journalism

Jane McWilliamsI normally prefer more narrowly focused blog posts. And any one of the three subjects in the blog post title would typically suffice.

But Jane McWilliams is teaching a Cannon Valley Elder Collegium course this spring titled The Future of Journalism (4 slots left as I write this) and local media moguls from KYMN, the Northfield News, Northfield Patch,, and yes, even Locally Grown are among the guests she’s having attend various class sessions.

  1. Since Northfield Patch is the new kid on the block here in town, its time to scrutinize their effort, both locally and nationally.  What has been their impact on Northfield thus far? What do you like about what they’re doing? What’s disappointing or problematic?
  2. PatchPatch is a national chain of hyperlocal news sites owned by AOL. There have been many other high profile hyperlocal news projects launched, with many failures already. What’s being learned out there?
  3. Journalism (local, state, national, international) continues to be in a state of extreme flux.  What do you like and not like about what you’re seeing?

If you come across interesting resources related to these issues, be sure to post them in a comment with a link and, if you’re up for it, an excerpt.


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    Early last December, I got this email from Tram Whitehurst with the Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) at the Missouri School of Journalism:

    I am working on a project at the Reynolds Journalism Institute about and hyperlocal news in communities across the country. The project is part of a larger effort headed by RJI fellow Lisa Skube. You can find more on that project here.

    My goal is to interview local editors for Patch and independent local news sites/blogs and then to share the results of those interviews on the project’s Web site. With an increasing amount of commentary on this issue, this project seeks to hear directly from operators at the local level.

    Would you be willing to speak with me for a few minutes by phone in the next week or so? I would really like to hear your thoughts on the state of hyperlocal news in your community.

    Last week, Tram notified me that the project report was available in two parts:

    The Patch Effect – Part 1: What AOL’s new venture could mean for hyperlocal news

    The Patch Effect – Part 2: What the hyperlocals are saying

    March 7, 2011
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb on March 4: Hyperlocal Heartbreak: Why Haven’t Neighborhood News Technologies Worked Out?

    It doesn’t feel like this whole hyperlocal news technology thing is working out very well, so far at least. Maybe it’s not fully baked enough yet. Maybe the public hasn’t caught up enough. Maybe the economics aren’t there yet. Maybe local TV news is still good enough for users. Maybe hyperlocal is best when it’s hyper-human, not powered by robots. Maybe not very many people want what these sites offer.

    March 7, 2011
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    Mathew Ingram at Gigaom on March 4: Hyper-Local News: It’s About the Community or It Fails

    The easiest way to see whether a hyper-local site is working or not is to look at the comments. Are there heated discussions going on in the comments on stories? If not, then the site is likely to be a ghost town.

    March 7, 2011
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    It bugs me that Patch articles don’t link directly to the local businesses or organizations named in the article. The links go to the Patch directory listing for the organization or business and only from there can you click a link that takes you to the website. Example:

    Northfield, Get Your Book On

    This is a national policy, evidently, because all the Patch sites appear to do it.

    But it sucks for the reader time-wise, and it sucks for those who are linked to by Patch because it deceives the search engine spiders.

    Why not link directly in the body of the text and then at the bottom of the article, note that more info can be found about the organization in the local Patch directory and link to them there?

    March 8, 2011
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    My early December Patch-related quotes from Part 2:

    In a sense I like having Patch here, because it’s another source of news, and they’re hiring freelancers… But it will probably put the fear of God into some of the others.


    I’d like to see Patch aggregate some of the work of the bloggers in town. They haven’t embraced the local blogosphere yet…They seem very traditional, like a newspaper without the print. They’re not using crowdsourcing, or engaging with citizens in other ways to do stories. I think they need to consider how the story process is changing online.


    I reached out to the regional editor and we were supposed to have coffee, but that didn’t happen…I did meet with the local editor before the site launch. I gave him a list of local freelancers and told him he should link to other stories… I’ll link to Patch stories, and post comments letting readers know about a Patch story. I see our mission as to inform people, and I will link to people who do news.

    March 8, 2011
  6. Erica Zweifel said:

    I LOVE the Patch. They have become my local online news source of preference.

    I used their Capitol Review to prepare for the council meeting with our state legislators. “Capitol Review is a weekly look at what your state legislators are doing at the Minnesota Capitol—how they’re voting, the bills they’re writing and the issues they’re getting behind. Come back to Northfield Patch every Monday for a new Capitol Review.” I LOVE the Capitol Review!

    Their reporting style centers on the issues, rather than gossip and personalities. I have complemented their reporters on this style and I am glad to have this online opportunity to complement them again. I LOVE the reporting style of the Patch!

    Because they hire freelance reporters, they can cover more events. They have covered local chess tournaments and the recent History Day event at the middle school. I LOVE the local coverage!

    I am going to sign off now and go read the Patch,
    Erica Zweifel

    March 8, 2011
  7. I agree with Erica. The Capitol Review has made doing local government easier – sure cuts down my search time for state action. The variety of stories covering school events, council meetings, community happenings, etc. is much broader and deeper than the Northfield News. I love the minute with the Mayor (and County Commissioner Galen Malecha’s little videos) for quick, human news about city government. Patch reporters follow up after meetings and work to get the facts right.

    Concurrently, the Northfield News website has become more cluttered and unreadable with scrolling stories, more pop up ads, and less news. I used to check the News for news, now I check the Patch.

    Keep up the good work, Patch!

    March 8, 2011
  8. David Beimers said:

    I will echo the comments of Erica and Betsey. The capitol review has been helpful in knowing what my legislators are focusing on (I could go to the legislature’s web-site, but the Patch does the work for me). I have also been very appreciative of their sports coverage. I don’t go to high school hockey games very often, but I’m very interested in knowing how they are doing. The in-game updates this season were great.

    Finally, I will second Betsey’s comment about the NNews becoming more cluttered. Did the News stop allowing comments? It seems as though there is no discussion on the News’ website anymore.

    March 8, 2011
  9. Griff, first off, thanks for the post. As we discussed this fall, Patch as a company is still very young, and even more so in Minnesota. Northfield Patch hits four months on March 18. (No cake necessary.)

    While you will find some similar content direction among the sites, it’s up to each editor to set the course for his or her site. It’s our job to know what our community wants—and sometimes, we’ll be wrong. We learn, we adjust. Heavy council coverage in one town might work. I think Northfielders don’t necessarily want to read five council stories a week. I could be wrong.

    As David says below, I tried something with sports—focus on video and complement it with the story, not the other way around. And as best I could, I tried to update via our Facebook and Twitter pages. Some Patches closer to the metro have focused on game stories. It’s our job to see how our community responds. I think folks have enjoyed the videos and I plan to continue that as much as I can heading into spring.

    And I understand your frustration with regards to linking. Sometimes I link to the directory and sometimes I link to folks’ respective sites. One reason I like linking to the directory, especially in the case of places like the library or businesses we’ve written about, is there’s a running list at the bottom of their directory listing for stories they’ve been involved in.

    Check it out:

    There, you can see the library was featured in a video from its Cabin Fever event, and stories about Black History Month and the book clubs.

    There’s no hard-fast rule. I have no issue sending folks to other sites, as I did in my video post about Joe Mauer, in which I thanked (and linked) to KYMN. The same goes for your Craigslist catch for The Measuring Cup.

    I hope that helps. Anyone with questions can e-mail me at or give me a call at 612-356-4084. Thanks!

    March 8, 2011
  10. It would be interesting to see if the Northfield News is doing any analysis of its web metrics. The new design IMHO, is just a big splattering of links, with zero content… and WAY too busy.

    Just give me the top 5 stories, 2 photos, and an advertisement. Keep it simple. The new design is difficult from a usability standpoint.

    I bet if they looked at their web metrics, their bounce rate has probably climbed dramatically. Also, with NO content on the homepage, their search engine results are probably in the tank.

    Basic Web 101 stuff. I think they may have taken a step back with this new layout.

    As for PATCH, I am a huge supporter. Corey has it going on over there, and with growth and additional resources… I look forward to its growth.

    March 8, 2011
  11. I do not have a lot of technical knowledge or vocabulary, (although I am working on that) I just put stories out there wherever I can for Prairie’s Edge Humane Society and try to get us as much publicity as possible and get our name out there as much as possible in order to help get animals adopted. I post on both Locally Grown and Patch. I send articles to the Northfield News and the Faribault Daily News on a regular basis. I can say that I like being able to know that our stories will always be posted on Locally Grown or Patch as apposed to “hoping” the print media will pick up on a story. I know people are reading the information we are putting on Patch. They are also reading the information we are putting on Locally Grown. Adoptions have come from both outlets. I like both outlets for information and both Griff and Corey have been very helpful to me whenever I have needed assistance in getting the word out for events, fundraisers, programs, etc. I think the more outlets for information, the better!

    March 8, 2011
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    Bill Keller, editor of the NY Times: All the Aggregation That’s Fit to Aggregate

    “Aggregation” can mean smart people sharing their reading lists, plugging one another into the bounty of the information universe. It kind of describes what I do as an editor. But too often it amounts to taking words written by other people, packaging them on your own Web site and harvesting revenue that might otherwise be directed to the originators of the material. In Somalia this would be called piracy. In the mediasphere, it is a respected business model.

    The queen of aggregation is, of course, Arianna Huffington, who has discovered that if you take celebrity gossip, adorable kitten videos, posts from unpaid bloggers and news reports from other publications, array them on your Web site and add a left-wing soundtrack, millions of people will come.

    March 10, 2011

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