The most dynamic business in American journalism continues to be Patch, AOLís network of more than 800 local news websites (which it plans to expand to 1,000 by the end of the year). There is not another media company in the U.S. whose help wanted ads are this extensive.
AOL Inc. last week announced it invested another $40 million in Patch in the first three months of 2011 ó on top of the $75 million it invested in last year.
The company made another announcement, reported by Jeff Bercovici of Forbes reported on April 26:
Patch, AOLís network of hyperlocal news sites, is trying to recruit as many as 8,000 bloggers in the next eight days, according to editor in chief Brian Farnham.
On Friday, Patch editors were told to start recruiting bloggers in preparation for the launch of its blog platform on May 4. Yesterday, Farnham issued a memo with concrete targets: Each editor is expected to sign up five to 10 new bloggers by then.
On May 4, the launch date, Bercovici wrote:
No wonder AOL is so eager to get folks writing for free for Patch. The internet giant pumped $40 million into its network of hyperlocal news sites in the first quarter of 2011, and it will almost certainly lose well in excess of $100 million on the venture this year.
Not a dollar of those millions will go to the local bloggers. If Patch recruits 10,000 bloggers, it wonít cut a check to any of them.
Whatís wrong with that? Whatís wrong with writing for free? If you decide you have the time and the inclination and something to say and youíre willing to put in the work for free, thatís your look-out.
Just donít sue the business you work for when the business make a pot of money, as a blogger named Jonathan Tasini did. Last month, he filed a class-action suit on behalf of all the bloggers who has been writing for the Huffington Post two months after AOL bought the Huffington Post for $315 million.
A poll of Huffington Post bloggers released yesterday found that most of them said they want to be paid but will continue writing for free if theyíre not. Interesting, isnít it, how much bloggers want their voices to be heard, and how many bloggers there are?
I checked five local Patch sites yesterday, and none of them have hit their quota of ďfive to tenĒ new write-not-free bloggers. North Andover Patch has four bloggers so far, Newton and Brookline have three, Somerville has two and the Back Bay has only one.
You see Patchís problem now: If you donít pay people for their work (and writing is work), most people wonít do the work. And Patch is going to start seeing another problem very soon ó unpaid bloggers have no incentive to write other than their own motivation. Letís see how long Patchís unpaid bloggers keep posting regularly.
Since you asked, Iíve been writing this blog for Boston.com for more than a year now, averaging about a post a week, for free (although the Globe intends to pays we Community Voices bloggers a nominal amount soon).
There are several reasons why I do it: After 30 years of committing journalism for money, I like the opportunity to think and research and write about journalism; it helps my academic career, or at least I hope it does; everyone who writes wants to be read, and Boston.com gets 4.5 million unique visitors a month; like all writers, Iím vain; and most of the time (O.K., maybe some of the time) I have something I want to say about how journalism is practiced today.
So I give away my skill and my labor, and I donít mind at all.
Follow @mleccese on Twitter.
The author is solely responsible for the content.