Leaning against the cubbies in a classroom at the Immaculate Heart of Mary elementary school in Philadelphia's Andorra section, editor Sam Fran Scavuzzo took notes on what would become his lead story of the day:
"Poodle Posse" Stops By Andorra Catholic School.
"I always love classroom events," said Scavuzzo, 23, a 2009 La Salle University graduate who may be finding himself on the cusp of the future of journalism as he reported Thursday on a talk by the author of "The Adventures of the Poodle Posse" series.
Scavuzzo is editor of the Roxborough-Manayunk Patch, an online community news site founded by AOL - in a $50 million project to blanket the nation and this region with similar sites.
Meanwhile, editor Joe Petrucci met someone he might profile in a future issue of Flying Kite, a new e-mailed Philadelphia publication that reports on the doings of the creative class - the young, the hip, the techno-entrepreneurs, the design community, the venture capitalists.
As the market for news fragments, new models for journalism are emerging. Two of those experiments, Flying Kite and Patch, launched in Philadelphia last month.
These models, and others, are being watched closely by experts inside and outside the news business: Do they really provide significant news, and will they succeed financially?
The two have very different business models.
AOL is hiring hundreds of journalists as it rolls out its nationwide push to launch 500 Patch sites by year's end, including dozens in this region. So far, there are 212 nationally.
Haddonfield, Moorestown, Wallingford, Buckingham, Doylestown, Narberth, West Chester, Upper Gwynedd, and Chestnut Hill are among the towns set for their own Patch sites.
Scavuzzo's Roxborough site and one for Ardmore and Wynnewood started Sept. 9.
Flying Kite Media, which debuted last month, is one of a dozen sites created by the Michigan-based Issue Media Group. The others have similarly cute and aspirational names - Bmore for Baltimore, CapitalGains in Lansing, Mich.
"Editorially, we're not trying to be that watchdog," said Petrucci, 34, a freelancer under contract to run Flying Kite and a Pennsylvania version titled KeystoneEdge.
"We're sort of a new narrative and looking at the region and the city in a way that's moving things forward and focused on what's happening next," said Petrucci, a former newspaper reporter.
Flying Kite's second issue, published Wednesday, led with a story about bicycling in the city and profiled the newly hip Fishtown.
Flying Kite's publishers will not enter a market until they line up enough sponsors to fund a project in advance.
In Philadelphia, the dozen sponsors include the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau and Select Greater Philadelphia, which tries to attract business here. Each paid $6,000 for sponsorship status, access to content, and the ability to run advertisements near appropriate stories.
"This is a fresh way to get fresh content about all the innovative things happening in our city," said Danielle Cohn, bureau spokeswoman.
Flying Kite's founders make no apology for its relentlessly soft-news, upbeat nature. Advertisers want "their brand sitting next to growth news," founder Paul Schutt said in a online video.
Issue Media employs only a handful of headquarters and technical people. All the local staff are freelance.
By contrast, AOL hires one full-time editor per Patch, paying $35,000 to $45,000 with benefits and vacations.
"It's a virtual job," said Patch president Warren Webster, a former magazine and newspaper executive.
Each editor is issued a laptop, BlackBerry, digital camera, video camera, and police scanner. "They work out of the coffee shop, the town hall," he said. "They are what we call walking newsrooms."
The editors also get a freelance budget.
Patch's revenue model is more traditional - culling advertising dollars from local businesses. Webster estimates Patch can operate each site for 4.1 percent of the cost of a traditional newspaper, which has printing presses, trucks, and an actual staff.
Webster declined to say whether Patch is profitable.
Both models raise interesting questions about economic viability and what constitutes journalism, said consultant Ken Doctor, author of Newsonomics, a book about the future of news in a digital age.
Patch, he said, joins a cadre of news organizations touting "hyperlocal." As multiple media outlets hustle for the same advertising dollars, the local florist will be inundated with marketing proposals.
"They'll have more knocks on the door than they did in the print age, but less money in this recession," he said. Yes, costs are low, but attracting readers is a challenge.
The Flying Kite question, Doctor said, turns on the difference between advertising and journalism. It's fuzzier online, Doctor said, "No one is clear what the rules are."
And who, he asked, will serve communities that aren't wealthy enough to attract the hip or that don't meet Patch's algorithm of 59 criteria?
Webster acknowledges that Patch is not likely to launch in Camden or North Philadelphia soon. "Based on our business plan, we do tend to skew toward the affluent," he said.
"It's a sign that our profession is getting past the stage of feeling sorry for itself and really starting to innovate," said Donna Shaw, an associate journalism professor at the College of New Jersey.
Scavuzzo agrees. "I think I'm really lucky to be riding this wave," he said.