Patch hopes that all 903 of its hyperlocal news sites will be profitable by the end of 2013, and that many of them will have migrated to a less-newsy, more community-based platform, company president Warren Webster said on Tuesday evening.

He was interviewed by Forbes media reporter Jeff Bercovici at the end of the first day of Street Fight Summit, the hyperlocal conference.

“We went into 2012 having built this enormous organization,” Webster said, and “now we’ve built this machine; this machine has to work.” About 100 sites are profitable, mostly the oldest ones, he said, news that has been reported elsewhere. But Patch’s unique visitors are up 30 percent in the past year, he said, and “it does take time to win the hearts and minds not only of these communities but also the small-business owners.”

Patch, founded in 2007, has long gotten negative coverage, with critics alleging that its reporters are overworked and that, while its PR line emphasizes local news, internally the company prefers clickbait-style content. The criticism has continued with regard to Patch’s effort to turn a profit, Webster said, including disparaging coverage of the company’s decision to merge sites and cut freelance budgets. (Street Fight, the conference host, tweeted one of those stories Tuesday morning. It alleged that some local Patch editors are pulling double duty. Having been a local editor, I can tell you that it was barely possible to run one site and still sleep occasionally.)

“Those [alleged cuts] are not by any means reactive to some financial pressure,” Webster told Bercovici. “They are 100 percent decisions that are made not by us but by people in those markets to make those markets better.”

Whether or not Patch editors are overworked, Webster said the type of work that they do will evolve in the coming year. Five towns in Long Island have been testing a new platform that shifts the site’s focus from publishing outlet—for both professional reporting and unpaid, HuffPost-style community bloggers—to more of a “community hub.”

There will be “as much and more quality original content,” Webster said, though “content” will mean not only reported stories but also community conversations as encouraged by the new platform. Running a community hub, Webster said, is “definitely going to be a big part of what our editors do.”

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Kira Goldenberg
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