AOL and its hyperlocal news source Patch Media Corporation announced Tuesday the launch of PatchU, a new network of partnerships between Patch sites and journalism schools to provide internships and coursework opportunities to journalism students. As part of the initiative, students will work directly under the guidance of Patch editors to gain real-world experience within Patch’s hyperlocal business model.
Thirteen schools have already joined the PatchU network, including Hofstra University’s School of Communication, which is also a founding partner, UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, and Stanford University’s Graduate Program in Journalism, among others.
Founding partner Hofstra University recently began enrolling students in a fall/winter internship with Patch, in which students will earn course credit to work and receive professional guidance at Patch’s Mineola, NY publication. As part of the PatchU/Hofstra internship, students will learn how to pitch and write stories, shoot and edit photos and videos, integrate content with social media, and use Patch’s content management system to produce stories online.
Students will also work with faculty advisors to ensure they are meeting learning objectives. The purpose of the internship is to help students develop the skills and experience needed to be competitive in the increasingly multimedia-dominated field of journalism.
“As best I can tell, no one is hiring more journalists right now – or has plans to hire more journalists in the next couple years – than AOL/Patch,” said Bob Papper, Bob Papper, Chair of Journalism, Media Studies, and Public Relations at Hofstra University, in an email. “And the starting pay for editors is about $10,000 more per year than starting pay in TV news (for students right out of school). Part of our arrangement means that we have a Patch editor right in our newsroom working with students every day. That’s the kind of hands on, instant feedback that few internships offer.”
There is no doubt that AOL will benefit from the new network of partnerships. AOL bought Patch in 2009 as part of its strategy to improve its original content offerings and has big dreams for Patch’s expansion. Patch, a hyperlocal community-focused news service, operates in towns throughout California, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, District of Columbia, Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Virginia. In August the media company launched its 100th site and plans to expand to more than 500 towns throughout the United States by the end of 2010. To achieve this goal, Patch is looking to hire more than 500 journalists this year.
AOL CEO Tim Armstrong has insisted that the company is not looking to become the next “content farm,” but there is a big market for content, and all signs are pointing to AOL’s objectives to take the reins on the content bandwagon—which leads to the obvious question: Is AOL simply trying to recruit writers for a content farm?
“Patch has already hired some of our graduates. I suspect they’re more than a little tired at the end of the day, but they’re getting great experience,” Papper told me. “And they’re employed!”
“Our agreement with Patch is very limited. We have just initiated a digital news operation, (The Reese Felts Newsroom) with newsgathering, research and innovation elements,” said Jean Folkerts, Dean of the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication, in an email. “In discussions with Patch, we agreed that there might be an occasional story that would be beneficial for our newsroom and Patch to work on together, but we are not providing labor for Patch.”
AOL could not be reached for comment, but there is no argument that as print journalism goes the way of the Dodo, aspiring journalists will need the hands-on skills and experience in multimedia journalism that Patch can provide. But is the partnership network toeing the line between online journalism and mass content manufacturing?
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