Joe Pompeo of has a couple of interesting columns (Aug. 5 and Aug. 6) about whether the new chain of AOL “hyper local” Patch websites are sweatshops. Patch hires reporters/editors who cover news in one specific community, and the job can be pretty demanding. The pay is about $40,000 a year, according to Pompeo.

Patch started on the East Coast, but this year has opened sites serving Albany, Danville, Mill Valley, Pleasanton, San Anselmo-Fairfax, San Rafael, San Ramon and Walnut Creek. A San Bruno site is on the way, according to Patch’s index page.

Pompeo quotes a letter from an anonymous Patch editor:

    The working conditions for local editors at Patch sites raise the question of whether this model is sustainable or about whether this is the reality for journalists working in this new media age.
    Basically, the job is 24/7 with so far little support in getting any kind of time off — nights, weekends, vacation days guaranteed under our AOL contract. (Some regional editors do try to help; others don’t.) This time-off issue has become a major concern among local editors. You might hear about the 70-hour work weeks. 
    Yes, 70 hours and more. It’s a start-up and all that, and I knew it would be hard work going in. But what is becoming distressing is this sense that I can’t get a break. I’ve worked in journalism for more than 20 years as a newspaper reporter, online editor, magazine editor, and I’ve never worked so much in my life.

Pompeo apparently got a lot of responses from Patch editors who disputed the sweatshop allegations, such as this one from one in New Jersey named Mary Mann.

    70 hours? Not my experience though I do think some editors have been putting in those hours. In Maplewood, NJ, I work something closer to 40-60 hours per week. 
    Yep, we do work hard as Patch editors, but this is the most flexible and rewarding full-time job I’ve ever had. I can pick up my kids from camp, do some laundry and grocery shopping and make my calls, visit my interviewees and post my stories. Also, the editors do not have to worry about the technical side of the site—we have a whole support team back at the central office working on that. 
    And all the ad sales are handled by ad sales staff. Also, you’ve got a network of other editors in your region to share stories with and help provide coverage. So, we don’t do it all — a major difference between being a local editor for Patch and starting your own standalone site.

And another Patch editor wrote to Pompeo to say:

    I, too, am a local editor with Patch, and I feel the need to clear up a misconception — namely, that we were all somehow “duped” into long hours and middling pay. 
    Maybe there’s some poor sap out there who went into this line of work thinking it would make him rich, but that certainly doesn’t describe me or anyone I know. I could have gone into technical writing or advertising or consulting, but I didn’t, because I genuinely_f&*$@*_love_journalism. And as crazy as it may seem, I was willing to trade a higher salary to practice it. So let’s bear that in mind as we lament the fate of the poor, foolish Patch editor.

Bay Area Media News

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