Thursday, January 30, 2014

Patch lays off hundreds of employees

Patch, a hyperlocal news website that had pages devoted to 900 cities nationally, yesterday laid off hundreds of its employees after an ownership change. A source told Jim Romenesko that 80% to 90% of Patch employees were fired.

In the Bay Area, The Alamedan website reported that one editor, Autumn Johnson, is now overseeing 20 local Patches in the East Bay. The names of other local editors on Patch sites have been removed, presumably because they have been laid off.

AOL sold a majority interest in the money-losing website to Hale Global, an investment firm that specializes in turning around troubled companies.

Hale plans to keep all 900 Patch sites open, but instead of providing local reporting the website will become a content aggregator, presumably using stories generated by newspaper and TV station websites.

The fired employees will receive their yearly AOL bonuses, a payout for accrued vacation time and two months’ severance, according to TechCrunch, an AOL property.

"Patch had long been a sore spot on AOL’s balance sheet," TechCrunch's Matt Burns wrote. "The outlet failed to become profitable after Aol acquired it in 2009. Patch is estimated to have cost Aol between $200 million and $300 million to run. In 2012 Aol CEO Tim Armstrong made a commitment to turn Patch around. In 2013, sites were consolidated or closed and staffing was cut. Still, nothing seemed to help."

Patch was the latest attempt by a company to crack the local news niche online. Before Patch, there was Microsoft's Sidewalk/Digital Cites/RealCities (late 1990s) and Backfence.com (2005-2007).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

January 2014 Press Club board minutes

January 8, 2014, San Mateo Daily Journal Offices

PRESENT: Peter Cleaveland, Darryl Compton, Laura Dudnick, Antonia Ehlers, Jon Mays, Kristy Blackburn. Absent: Melissa McRobbie, Dave Price, Ed Remitz, Marshall Wilson

WHAT’S WORKING? WHAT’S NOT WORKING? Board members brainstormed about ways in which to improve the board’s effectiveness. It was a unanimous decision to meet every other month, instead of monthly. We also debated whether to meet at a restaurant or the Daily Journal offices. The decision was to stay with the Daily Journal offices, as restaurants can be a bit loud and distracting. We agreed to refresh our mission, if needed, and to possibly host a spring social at Chevy’s to attract more members.

FINALIZING THE CALL FOR ENTRIES: The board discussed the new deal this year – with a $40 membership, each contestant’s first entry is free. This will hopefully generate more members and more entries. We also might need to find a new partner in the future for this contest. Right now, RTNDA charges $3,000. Board members discussed sharing this fee with another club, such as Bakersfield. Another financial decision approved by the board was to make second- and third-place plaques the same size this year, which will save several hundred dollars.

CHANGING THE BY-LAWS TO ALLOW THE PAST PRESIDENT TO VOTE: All were in favor of this amendment to the by-laws.

NEWSLETTER STATUS: Board members offered to assist Laura Dudnick with her duties, and we discussed sending shorter issues more frequently (every two to three weeks).

FINANCE AND MEMBERSHIP: Darryl provided an update on the state of the club’s finances. We are looking good, except we all agreed that we need to make an effort to gain more members. The decision to increase individual membership from $35 to $40 was a sound decision.

HIGH SCHOOL JOURNALISM CONTEST: The deadline for entries will be March 14, 2014. We are hoping for more entries from more schools.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:30 p.m.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

News crew attacked with pepper spray

San Francisco police are seeking two robbers who pepper-sprayed a Univision Channel 14 news crew and stole their camera in the Mission District on Monday. The robbery was reported at about 6:25 p.m. in the 1100 block of Valencia.

The crew, which consisted of four men between the ages of 28 and 61, was breaking down their equipment after filming in the area when two male suspects believed to be in their late teens ran up from behind and pepper-sprayed them, according to police.

The robbers then took the camera and fled west toward San Jose Avenue, police said.

The victims were treated at the scene for eye irritation and then released.

The robbery was the latest in a series of attacks of TV news crews in the Bay Area.  In August, a KGO-TV crew was robbed of their camera gear in broad daylight in Oakland. In September, an armed security guard traveling with a KRON news crew in San Francisco foiled an attempted robbery and shot one of the suspects.

TV stations have been hiring private security guards to travel with news crews in high-crime areas.

SFGate reported in November that stolen TV cameras sometimes end up with porn producers. "Turns out stolen TV news cameras are popular among porn purveyors and in overseas markets, where questions are less likely to be asked," the SFGate item stated without attribution.