Patch.com editors speak at Bucks journalism forum

CHRISTOPHER T. WIRTH

Anyone can tell you that the
media has been undergoing a
monumental transition since
the invention of the telegraph;
from the soap box announcers
of the 19th century to the
Twitter feeds and Facebook
profiles of today.
Perhaps no other area of
media has felt the impact more
than the field of journalism.
With newspapers in constant
decline, online news networks
like Patch.com are at the forefront
of this paperless chapter
in communication history.
“Newspapers put a noose
around their neck and jumped
off a bridge a long time ago,”
said Patch Eastern
Pennsylvania Regional Editor,
Karl Smith.
Smith spent the last decade
running Phillyburbs.com for
Calkins Media and has worked
for seven newspapers in five
states. Now working for Patch,
Smith feels that theIinternet
did not kill newspapers, but
that “they committed suicide.”
Echoing the theory behind
Patch.com, Smith told a classroom
of 22 students at Bucks
that “the community needs to
tell us what’s important” and
that the local paper should portray
what the community is
talking about. In his experience,
the local newspapers
were not successful in doing
that.
Speaking to a mix of college
and Neshaminy High School
students at Bucks’ annual journalism
forum organized by
Professor Tony Rogers, Smith
was joined by Jenna Ekdahl.
Ekdahl has been a local editor
for Patch.com since she graduated
from Penn State in 2010.
In college, Ekdahl wrote for
the renowned student paper,
The Daily Collegian. Now she
manages a team of freelance
reporters covering
Northampton Township.
“I hope that newspapers stay
around” Ekdahl said, “That’s
just the old soul in me I guess.”
Ekdahl insisted that there is
always going to be a conversation
happening. The fact is, it’s
not the source, it’s the information
that’s important.
That seems to be the basic
motto for Patch: The importance
of information and its
relevance to its readers.
Ekdahl’s office ranges from a
table at Starbucks to a public
library or where ever there’s
free Wi-Fi available.
Members of the community
can see her Twitter update and
stop in to say hi or ask questions.
Just look for the
“Patch.com” sticker on the
back of her Mac Book. “It’s
important to be in communication
with the community”
Ekdahl said, “To see what
they’re talking about.”
Smith chimed in, saying that
“Patch.com is actually an old
school approach to journalism.”
A reference to a time
when members of the community
could walk into the local
newsroom and talk to the
reporters that worked there.
With 850 sites and growing,
Patch.com is basically trying to
revive that interaction while
still utilizing the technology of
today – acting as a
“Community-specific news
and information platform dedicated
to providing comprehensive
and trusted local coverage
for individual towns and communities,”
according to their
website.
So, what does it take to be a
journalist in the metamorphic
environment of today?
“We want smart, aggressive,
and good reporters,” Smith
said. Being able to write and
write well, go without saying,
but what most people may not
think of is multimedia knowledge.
With the growth of the
internet, news agencies want
people who can snap photos or
shoot and edit video.
In addition to being techsavvy,
Ekdahl suggests it’s
good to have a niche. “Write
about things that are up your
alley. Be an expert,” Ekdahl
said. She also stressed the
importance of internships –
paid or not. If you ever get a
chance to do something that
throws you in the “hot seat:”
DO IT!
But it’s not always work
experience that gets you the
job. Smith mentioned that personality
plays a big part.
“Employers want to see
reporters that are hungry. One
guy might have been doing it
for 50 years, but that doesn’t
mean he’s been doing it right
for 50 years,” Smith said.
The students filling the
assortment of office chairs,
plastic seats, and metal folding
chairs listened intently as
Smith transitioned to a serious
tone: “Know the business,” he
said. If you want to be a writer,
then you should write! Make a
blog and write everyday.
Also, make a point to not
only know Twitter and
Facebook, but understand their
different functions and which
are best to communicate the
information you want to share.
An online portfolio of articles,
known as “clips,” is a must.
With everything seeming to
be going electronic, it’s no surprise
that the news is piggybacking
all of those advancements.
The Daily has rescently
become the first newspaper
subscription that can be downloaded
and read directly from
the iPad. Technology: It’s
where the audience is and it’s
where they’re going to look for
information.
“Newspaper circulation has
been in a nose dive for the past
20 years,” Smith said. And it
doesn’t look like that’s going
to change anytime soon.