With Patch.com -- AOL's grand experiment in hyperlocal journalism -- all but demolished, another small-news network is expanding into Pennsylvania, starting with Montgomery County.
Two former Patch reporters have launched sites for The Alternative Press, or TAP, covering the North Penn area and the Lower Providence area. They reportedly are the first TAP sites to open in Pennsylvania, following about 50 bureaus in New Jersey.
Melissa Treacy, a former Patch regional editor, launched Lower Providence TAP in February amid snow and ice storms. It was auspicious timing, since demand for local news spikes during extreme weather. "We were covering where there were downed power lines, and who lost power and where there were accidents," said Treacy.
In her first three days, Treacy counted 1,500 unique page views and 354 Facebook followers. She said Lower Providence is sort of "a suburb of a smaller suburb," a gap area between two local newspapers that only gets covered for bigger stories.
Treacy enlisted a former Patch colleague, Tony Di Domizio, to launch another TAP in the North Penn area. "I jumped at the chance," said Di Domizio, a lifelong resident of Lansdale. "I couldn't leave people out in the cold like that. In terms of readers, coverage."
Di Domizio had a strong following with Patch, covering zoning and school board meetings, local coffee shops and small community issues -- "news that your neighbors are talking about but doesn't get covered in the newspaper," he said.
Di Domizio was one of hundreds of Patch reporters laid off in January. The company hasn't released figures and would not respond to multiple interview requests. But anecdotal reports suggest that the company's payroll has declined from a high of 1,500 to around 100 now, nationwide. According to the New Jersey News Commons, only 10 editorial employees remain to run all 136 Patch sites in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Patch was founded in New Jersey, and even after it had expanded to 900 bureaus, 1 in 6 of them was in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. The demographics here appear to be well-suited for hyperlocal -- a large population of middle-class, well-educated readers, living in community-oriented suburbs.
"It helps being born and raised in the area you're covering. You know the people. You know the streets, you know the names. You care about what you're writing, and people latch onto that," Di Domizio said.
The North Penn TAP marks its "soft launch" today. Treacy said there are rumblings that other TAP franchises might work in the Lehigh Valley or the Main Line.