AOL Closes 150 Local “Patch” Blogs. What’s Next?

08.23.2013 | Daniel Gabis

For several years we have heard a familiar refrain: Print journalism is on the decline, large news organizations are struggling, and much original reporting and storytelling is shifting to online-based outlets and blogs.

In mid-August, though, news broke that AOL planned to close a number of its Patch blogs, which had promised to deliver news and content on a hyper-local level. By the end of that week, the company had closed 150 of these blogs and laid off somewhere in the vicinity of 500 writers. The move may be an important step toward profitability for Patch, but it was jarring to see so many blogs shut down at once, especially when they have often been billed as the future of journalism.

Certainly, the fate, good or bad, of Patch doesn’t indicate that the role of blogs in reporting is suddenly on the decline. But it is a reminder that the media industry is constantly changing – and even areas considered new and trendy aren’t safe. What does this imply for public relations professionals?

Primarily, it means that beyond just pitching story concepts, PR teams need to be prepared to generate original content on behalf of their own companies and clients, and proactively push this content out more than ever.

At Communiqué, we’ve had success creating and distributing content in a number of ways. Here are a few places to start:

  • Stay on top of editorial trends. With the closing of so many Patch sites, what are the other avenues we should be pursuing as PR professionals? Many cities and neighborhoods have their own hyper-local news blogs. Seattle’s own Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, for example, is thriving, and it continues to be an incredible source of neighborhood-level news and content. Sites like these prove the hyper-local news model can work very well.There are also some very interesting developments in the mobile space, like Quartz (QZ.com), a news site entirely optimized for mobile consumption. It’s very new – formed by Atlantic Media Company in 2012, and its staff covers business and economic trends. In the last year, it has picked up some heavy hitters in journalism, a sign of optimism for mobile-optimized news outlets. Then there’s Medium, a relatively new project from former Twitter CEO Ev Williams. Medium lets users create their own articles, short- or long-form, which are shared among both registered users and guests on Medium.com. It provides a simple online writing and editing interface, but is geared more toward thoughtful, cerebral writing than other services like Blogger. It also links with Twitter accounts, which can help raise the profile of your CEO or other leadership interested in authoring articles.
  • Maintain, curate and share your own blog. It’s fairly standard for businesses to maintain a blog these days. Given how quickly the media environment can change, particularly online, maintaining a well-curated company blog can be a strong way to keep your message visible, controlled and positive. But if no one reads it, is it really helping? To be successful, you’ll need your team to share blog posts with stakeholders including journalists, customers and your own employees. That means it is critical that you…
  • …Don’t fall asleep at the social media wheel. Blogs may come and go, but social media user-ship and influence continues to rise. The obvious choices – Twitter and Facebook – remain strong engagement, marketing and public relations tools. But don’t ignore other social media opportunities to share your content. LinkedIn has recently expanded the ways that companies and “influencer” users can post original articles. We’ve previously discussed this here. Other services, like Storify, let users create stories based around social media usage. And, while Google Plus may not be the trendiest platform this year, sharing your content on Google’s social network can help your content place higher in search results, making it a useful and relevant tool for all of us in the PR industry.
  • Pitch bylined articles. Pitching contributed and bylined articles to editors is a tried and true PR tactic. It’s something that we have had continued success with at Communiqué PR, and we’ve seen the benefits for thought leadership and visibility for our clients. Pitching well-developed, thoughtful and timely pieces helps position your company as a leader and your PR team as a trusted source of information and content for reporters and editors.
  • Be creative! More and more, PR teams are being asked to be the creative minds behind content, and that means thinking like an editor. What do people want to read? Sometimes, this means using visual content to your advantage, whether on your own blog or when pitching stories to media. This may mean developing click-through photo galleries, or pitching stories in the “listicle” format popularized by sites like Buzzfeed and Mashable.

The ever changing media landscape can create many challenges for PR teams, as we all know. Keeping track of the latest outlets, beats and blogs is hard. But each day, there are new opportunities to create and share content, like those detailed above. Staying on top of these opportunities is an exciting proposition for all of us at Communiqué PR!


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Filed under: COMMUNIQUÉ PR, Media, PR trends, Social media

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