10 Years At Patch With The Hardest Working Team In Local News

As a virus sweeps our country with anxiety, sickness, death, the nation’s effort to hold the disease at bay has upended livelihoods for tens of millions of people. We live in interesting times, and journalism is made for interesting times.

This global pandemic is the world’s biggest story, but the front line for this story is in our homes and schools, on our main streets, inside our hospitals and nursing homes.

To know what’s happening outside our front doors, we need local news now more than ever.

And it’s going to be harder to come by now. News publishers are shuttering local papers, laying off or imposing furloughs on their reporters, even going out of business entirely. I feel for the journalists who suddenly find themselves victims of the new coronavirus and the deeply wounded economy they were covering. Given the disquietingly altered state of the news business, many journalists never will make their way back into a newsroom.

In another time of economic anxiety and upheaval, the Great Recession, I practiced journalism for a newspaper company that went bankrupt. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the place was owned and operated by morally and ethically bankrupt people. Though I still loved the craft, for a time I soured on the business of news.

Ultimately, the end of my newspaper days proved a blessing. Ten years ago this April, Patch found me. Our mission: create a digital public service filled with local news, event calendars and conversations for every town. There weren’t even 50 Patches in April of 2010. Patch still was just an idea mostly.

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We set our minds to turning that vision into a reality. We put in the hard work and the long days. Where once there was nothing, we built something. The readers came by the hundreds at first, then the thousands, the tens of thousands, and years into creation of The Patch, as our most loyal users affectionately call us, the readers began to pile up by the hundreds of thousands and the millions.

I’ve had the privilege of leading our newsroom in recent years as this team achieved its first month of 70 million page views, then 80, 90, and 100 million. And up it goes. I was proud to see us break 30 million unique visitors, then 40 million. Over the last few years, Patch’s Alexa ranking has climbed, too, and is now up there with a handful of the nation’s top news websites. I witnessed our Facebook fans swell to more than 3 million and our email subscribers rush past the 2 million mark. Our revenue streams have diversified. Headlines in the trade press about Patch’s early years disappeared, replaced by stories about Patch’s growth. I got to celebrate our first profitable year. Then another, and another, and another.

And each year, we’ve been able to pour that money back into our business, hire more reporters, and build new platform tools to serve our journalists and our users.

These are milestone numbers and real progress, but these are not the heart of Patch.

The relationship between our staffers and our users is the real beating heart of Patch.

When Aol put Patch on the block in 2013 and eventually spun us out, those also were interesting times. We felt tremendous anxiety and pain, and our commitment was put to the test. We lost a lot of good people. We had to tear down and start over. In many ways, those early years felt like stripping a house to the foundation and building anew.

What kept me going was hearing Patch users tell me how much they were rooting for us.

The news of recent weeks has deepened that relationship and driven home how important our work and our platform are to them. Today, they are not shy about telling us what they like and don’t like. We welcome that because we’re still building.

They need us, and we need them.

Every news organization has great and loyal readers. The same cannot be said of their owners. What’s the worst thing one might say about Patch’s owner? He has crazy ideas. And that’s one of the very best things we can say about him, too, for his crazy ideas and his passion for Patch push us to innovate and grind away at problems until we solve them.

This work is not easy. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it and local news would not need saving.

Editors and reporters who tell you their newsroom is as good as it possibly can be and can’t get any better are not being honest with you or themselves. While our work to improve Patch’s journalism will never be done, Patch’s reporting has broadened and deepened in recent years. What’s most important, however, is that the work serves our communities.

Here are a few of my favorite stories of late.

Coronavirus Cases Overwhelming Elmhurst Hospital: Source

NYC officials prepare for a wave of COVID-19 cases that could overwhelm hospitals. At Elmhurst Hospital, the wave may already have arrived. Reported by Maya Kaufman, in New York

Chicago Election Judge, Hospitalized After Primary, Dies Of Coronavirus

Five days after the March Illinois primary, an election worker drove to a hospital and died from the coronavirus. Should Illinois have postponed election day? Reported by Mark Konkol, in Illinois

Pasco Man Surprised To See Florida Announce His Coronavirus Death

“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” Gene Della Sala quipped. Reported by D’Ann Lawrence White, in Florida

Coronavirus Inspires Priest To Offer Drive-Thru Confessions

The Rev. Scott Holmer of Bowie, Maryland, is offering drive-thru confessions to lower the risk of spreading the coronavirus to parishioners. Reported by Michael O’Connell, in Maryland

New Parents Start Cafe In Hoboken, Then Struggle Amid Coronavirus

Two artists met years ago while working at a Hoboken coffee shop, and recently started their own. Now, with two kids, they’re worried. Reported by Caren Lissner, in New Jersey

Patch today finds itself in a rather unique position among local news operations. We’re growing. And we’re hiring.

Right now, we’re looking to add to our editorial team and hire local news reporters with an innovative, digital mindset to work in some of our biggest and best markets — northern New Jersey; Annapolis, Maryland; Long Island, New York; the SF Bay Area in California and southern California; and other locations, too.

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