In hindsight, I feel Patch did an excellent job of setting ambitious workloads and hiring people who were eager to make their sites a reflection of their character and work ethic. The biggest drain was often representing the publication. Each editor’s photo is prominently displayed just below the masthead; we were the face of the local site, and, by proxy, of the company. So even when we weren’t working, local editors were on the job, especially if we lived in the community we covered.
And living in or close to your coverage area was more than encouraged—relocation was often a requirement when a local editor accepted a position. So was living up to the company’s philosophy on connecting to the local community through charities or volunteer organizations. Editors were asked to volunteer five days a year. Some of us bemoaned the additional hours; others, myself included, found real satisfaction in the spirit of the practice. Although it raised some conflict-of-interest concerns in the beginning, I joined a local ambulance corps. When there was a big story involving emergency medical services, I was adamant about keeping things out of the press until a police officer or citizen “tipped me off” to an incident that I may well have been at the night before. While it made my job more difficult, I’m glad I joined. I still volunteer with the ambulance corps today.
In addition to the editorial and volunteer work, we fought to get our sites noticed—on and off the clock. The marketing dollars that we were given, if any, usually came with the understanding that we would be manning booths at community events, or taking the lead in finding sponsorship opportunities, like supporting the local hayride or Little League team.
It seemed I could control every aspect of my site’s being, but making it sustainable was out of my grasp. And for me, it was aggravating to know that my site was not profitable.
In many small-town publications there is a thin wall between advertising and editorial. At my previous job, with a twice-weekly newspaper, the wall literally had a doorway that connected the two departments. At Patch, the dividing wall between editorial and advertising seemed so high at times that it was impossible to know where we stood in relation to those on the other side.
As editors, we were told only general information about revenues, sales, and business strategy, at least in the beginning. Many of us rarely saw our ad managers. My area went through four ad-sales agents, only two of whom I met. I didn’t envy their job: Our salespeople were stretched thin, sometimes covering more than three Patch sites, making their positions more difficult than ours, at least from a relationship-building perspective. By the nature of the position, local editors were the ones best-positioned to pitch potential advertisers, but that was off-limits, and to preserve editorial integrity, Patch made sure the division was strict.
Church, meet state
This began to change. In 2011, as reports leaked to the media noted, editors were encouraged to collaborate with members of the ad sales teams to better both the journalistic and advertising sides of the business. Some saw something sinister in this; as reports in Business Insider framed it, Patch was “juicing” its sales by asking editors to “start drumming up ad sales leads.”
But there was nothing quid-pro-quo about it and, to me, certain collaborations just made sense. If a new business is opening in a small community, for example, the event has both news value and potential advertising value. As far as I was concerned, the ad manager was one more set of ears on the ground that I desperately needed. My only question was, Why wasn’t Patch already doing this?