By Benét J. Wilson, immediate past chair, NABJ Digital Journalism Task Force & social media/eNewsletters editor, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
The rumors about layoffs at AOL-owned hyperlocal network Patch had been growing and stories started appearing on Aug. 9. But when the announcement was made on Aug. 16, Michelle Ferrier was already on the job with a Wiki and a blog post to encourage people to help document the job losses.
Ferrier, a professor at Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication has had a long-time interest in hyperlocal sites, seeing them as an antidote to media deserts and media organizations that tend to neglect the news of diverse communities. She created the wiki because, she said, it was hard to tell who was let go and what websites were being shuttered.
“My ultimate goal is to find sustainable models in journalism for low-served areas,” said Ferrier. “I’m trying to validate that with data from the wiki. We’re using it to find out which sites were cut and editors were released and match that to local demographics to see how media deserts are created.”
Ferrier, creator of LocallyGrownNews.com, is hoping to use this and other data to research what journalism models can sustain hyperlocal ventures. “We put together a database that has more information that’s on the wiki,” she said. “We wanted to list all the Patch websites, then go back in a month. If they haven’t been updated, we will assume they have been shut down.”
The project started on Aug. 9, when Ferrier started using social media to find laid-off editors and the names of decommissioned or consolidated Patch websites. “The wiki itself just went up on Aug. 20. We have about 1,000 sites on the list. We created the list so that folks could add information and offer a layer of transparency,” she said.
The goal is to let people know there was a source available to offer information on which Patch sites have shuttered. “We also wanted a place for those affected by the layoffs to tell their stories,” said Ferrier. “I have already spoken with some Patch editors,who are telling their stories.”
Ferrier said she hopes she can see patterns in how things functioned, how things were out of whack with what was being asked and how communities have lost a local news source. She is looking at data including what the affected communities look like, their demographics, and possible solutions.”The Patch layoffs address a critical issue to democracy,” she said.
The wiki is using existing news sources and offering links on specific sites and former editors who lost their jobs, said Ferrier. “Our goal is to then compare these news reports and go back in a month to look at all the sites and see if they’ve been updated,” she said. “At this point, there’s still shuffling going on and AOL is still consolidating, but we want to capture what we do know. We’re also trying to see if journalists of color and those communities were affected.”
Ferrier is using Facebook, Twitter, journalism and hyperlocal news groups and word-of-mouth to get the word out about the Wiki. “We want to get the word out, and we hope that people will spread it across their own networks.”