While it’s fair to point out these or any other flaws and judge the current Journatic product based on them, what isn’t useful is citing them as proof of a fatal approach or mustache-twirling exploitative intent. At least not yet. Journatic’s data-driven, cost-effective model may be off-base, but the attempt is a very good thing for everyone who cares about this space, since the hyperlocal market hasn’t yet produced a perfect “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter” admixture.

At Patch, we came to the conclusion that the recipe for community news is equal parts people and platforms. You need some journalism pros, you definitely need social components and tons of engaged active users, and you need technology — not for its own sake, but to amplify, accelerate, and elevate what your people produce. (I’m leaving aside the question of local advertisers and commerce here to focus on content.)

What the right balance of all those ingredients is… well, hyperlocal scientists are still swirling beakers to find out. We felt we were on the right path at Patch, where the main ingredient is full-time, professional editors who live and work locally. Nothing replaces the trust, good will, and accruable local knowledge you get from embedding people in the communities they cover.

Speaking of people, I guarantee for all their algorithms and data-scraping, the braintrust at Journatic doesn’t think it can do compelling content without talented human beings. In fact, ironically, what they’re up against—what everyone in hyperlocal is trying to solve—is the basic paradox at the heart of online journalism: when people produce content, they’re expensive; when they consume it, they’re cheap bastards who want everything for free.

Ultimately the journalism that everyone wants can only come from a business model
that works. If Journatic thinks it’s got that model, let them prove it. Or die trying.

Brian Farnham is the former editor in chief of Patch