First the good news: AOL is hiring.
The online-time Internet service provider turned online content contender, is bulking up to take its Patch hyperlocal news operation nationwide.
After two-plus years of stories about media company layoffs and the end of the journalism business as we know it, isn’t news of one comany’s hiring spree uplifting?
Yes, and no.
This week AOL announced that it’s got Patch bureaus up and running in 100 neighborhoods, each one staffed by a full-time reporter/editor, helped in part by contributions from local freelancers. AOL also says it anticipates hiring another 400 Patch journos in coming weeks to expand to a total of 500 locations in 20 states by the end of 2010.
Depending on which news account you read, Patch editors make $37,000 to $40,000 a year, not bad for what is the equivalent of a editorial job at a community newspaper.
Or is it?
According to accounts that are starting to trickle into the blogosphere from journos who’ve worked at Patch, the hours are long and the pressure to produce grueling, making the pay not so great after all. And that’s the bad news.
One writer, Ed Pilolla, is this week writing a series of posts about his Patch experience, starting with why he took the job, his take on the pay and how many stories he was expected to produce a day. Pilolla, who apparently doesn’t work for Patch any more (and coincidentally took part in this year’s WordCount Blogathon), says he routinely put in 75 hours a week, which meant that his annual salary worked out to be something like $10 an hour.
AOL CEO Tim Armstrong is set on dominating the hyperlocal news niche, according to this Bloomberg Businessweek article, hoping to grab local advertising dollars away from home-town papers, geographically-focused content farms such as Examiner.com and mom-and-pop hyperlocal sites.
According to the Bloomberg Businessweek story, AOL is pouring $50 million into the venture. Fifty million dollars sounds like a lot of money, especially if it’s meant to cover more than a year – and most media startups don’t break even in the first year, or even the second. That amount breaks down to $100,000 per location, so if it is meant to cover two years, that’s $74,000 to $80,000 to cover the editor’s salary with the remainder going to pay freelance writers and photographers.
But AOL has also hired an EIC, four editorial directors and 52 regional editors, so that $50 million is even more thinly stretched.
According to an Aug. 17 AdAge story, Patch is paying freelancers an average of $50 a story. That’s more than what content farms like Demand Media or Associated Content pay, according to AdAge’s Edmund Lee. But, unlike those companies, “the amount of available work is limited,” he writes. “Most of Patch’s editors have a weekly freelance budget slightly north of $500, according to people familiar with the matter. Patch further differs from other content purveyors by only taking on writers with a background in journalism.”
So if you’re looking for work, either full time or freelance, is Patch worth considering?
Yes and no.
If you’ve just graduated from j-school, have been out of work or are looking for an opportunity to become a better editor and reporter or how to run a hyperlocal site, a Patch assignment might be just what you’re looking for. You’ll work with experienced editors – which is always a good thing – and for a company that’s far from a startup.
But, as Pilolla points out, 65+ hour work weeks can be exciting at first but quickly become a grind. And working so many hours leaves little time for moonlighting to make up for the crummy pay.
What do you think – would you work for Patch?