Yesterday, Brian Farnham announced that he would be stepping down as editor-in-chief of Patch to pursue other start-up ventures, according to his blog post. Farnham, who spent four years at Patch, will be staying on as a member of the Patch advisory board, the post said.
Patch, a network of hyperlocal news websites owned by AOL, launched in 2009 as a platform for local communities, as previously reported. Each Patch site serves a community of 20,000-50,000 people and has a full-time editor, freelancers and bloggers.
Farnharm says in his post that his reasons for leaving are not “negative,” despite recent editorial changes. In February, AOL hired Rachel Fishman Feddersen as chief content officer of Patch, Reuters reported.
Reuters reported, “While Feddersen's role is still being defined, she said she sees her job as crafting a cohesive strategy that takes the elements of what works best locally and weaving those principals into coverage across Patch's network of sites. Essentially, she's looking for a bottom up—not top down—content strategy.”
Though some of Patch’s 863 news sites reached profitability last year, the company still has a long way to go in terms of revenue, with analysts approximating Patch’s losses at about $150 million, Reuters said.
Media expert Ken Doctor told Reuters, “Patch is underperforming. It is halfway from where it needs to be in terms of revenue and user experience.”
Patch is not without its share of scandal, too. According to Jim Romenesko, a Patch “leaker” claimed that the company was planning to eliminate part of the budget designated for freelancers. In addition, the employee said that Patch’s new focus was in creating, “easy, quick-hitting, cookie-cutter copy” such as “Best Of” pieces, the article said.
In his farewell announcement, Farnham denies any problems stemming from working under Feddersen, and takes a stab at Patch’s critics.
“I've never worked for a company that has been as scrutinized, criticized, and coal-raked as this one…you'd think we were creating toxic waste, instead of, you know, free useful information,” he said. “We have critics on Wall Street, critics in the media, local critics, national critics, the business press, the journalism reviews, bloggers, etc. There are so many that I've come to think of them as a single large, screechy, off-key band called BI [Business Insider] and the Haters. It's music to kill yourself by.”
Will Patch continue to grow its way to profitability, and prove its critics wrong? Ultimately, Patch’s relationships with local communities will most likely determine its success or failure, so it seems more crucial than ever that individual editors deliver content that online readers find most relevant.