Of course, the last time most of us saw John Stephens was at City Hall the night of the City Council reorganization, trying to defend the entirely nutso attacks made by Fire Chief Michael Bamberger against then Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray. Something the paper's young editor had published verbatim in the SM Weekly without the benefit of any critical review whatsoever. His reckless indiscretion doing little to help the already dismal reputation of the paper he was heading at that time.
Anyway, here is what Mr. Stephens had to say in this evening's e-mail to The Tattler:
Maybe it doesn't matter, but how did you know about the (water) meeting being on Oct 19? I wouldn't think it was such an issue, even after reading today's Weekly. But my recent receipt of an email from Elaine (Aguilar) confirming what you had reported and she refuted to The Weekly just makes me wonder! How did you know when the meeting would be held?
What Mr. Stephens is in part referring to here is the vastly incorrect front page story published yesterday by the Sierra Madre Weekly, as written by the unfortunate Terry Miller. Here is Terry's absurdly incorrect take on a breaking news story that was first reported on The Tattler earlier this week:
We were confused by the latest submission on what we lovingly refer to as Sierra Madre's local gossip blog. We quote: "Five months after they should have done it, the Sierra Madre City Council has called a 'special meeting' for the evening of October 19th to discuss the considerable water bond debt."
Terry then continued with this strange claim:
A 'Special Meeting' has not yet been announced according to Elaine Aguilar, Sierra Madre City Manager, with whom the Sierra Madre Weekly spoke on Wednesday morning. The city manager assured us that we would be notified when such special meetings are announced.
It looks like the folks working at the City of Sierra Madre's spacious administrative seat had once again forgotten about the forlorn and poorly informed Mr. Miller. Because not only will there be a special meeting on 10/19 about the water rate hike and Sierra Madre's $23.2 million in water bond debt (the elephant in the room that even Fogbank Buchanan can't hide), but the City also intends to send out a postcard soon to every house in town inviting them to that meeting as well. Facsimiles of which were passed out to the local press Thursday afternoon for their journalistic appraisal.
It seems that the sadly out of touch Mr. Miller didn't believe The Tattler might be in a position to break so important a story as this special City Council meeting on the topic of dunning Sierra Madre residents out of more money for water. An unfortunate assumption that has now left this gent both baying at the moon and rushing to "edit" the story on his paper's website.
But maybe we shouldn't be abusing this poor fellow so much. Let's talk about Patch instead.
So what exactly is the Sierra Madre Patch you ask? And how has it come to bless us with the presence of Mr. Stephens here in town? Certainly it is the new blog in town, but it is also decidedly different from the one you are reading now.
First of all it is owned by AOL, or what was once known as America On Line. You might recall that back in the early days of the popularization of everything internet they were just about everyone's first choice for an internet service provider. That merry "You've Got Mail!" greeting heard every time you received spam in your e-mail box became quite famous at the time. Spam being something that came quite often with an AOL account. They also quickly earned a reputation for providing some of the worst internet service imaginable, which led to millions deserting them for ISPs that could actually do things that AOL could not. Like getting you on line.
And it has been pretty much straight downhill for them ever since. Here is a report on AOL's dire economic straits published by ZD Net in August:
AOL's second quarter results were largely a disaster after the company posted a $1.05 billion net loss ... The company, which executives freely admit is a work in progress, reported a net loss of $1.05 billion, or $9.89 a share, on revenue of $584 million.
Oh how far the mighty had fallen.
But AOL, as part of that 'work in progress' thing, has come up with a new business model. They have now embarked on a mission to set up and maintain literally hundreds of individual city infotainment blogs all across this great land of ours. Each and every one of them carrying the same name of Patch. The big idea is to make them the equivalent of what were once the mainstay of local news, publications such as the Sierra Madre Weekly, or our locally beloved Mountain Views News. Both of which are grim distortions of what once was a great American institution, the local free press.
Here is how The Atlantic Wire.com describes the Patch concept:
Will AOL's 'Patch' Kill Your Local Newspaper? Local newspapers and alt-weeklies, once considered lucrative for their relative monopolies on arts coverage and classified listings, have found themselves assaulted by a variety of hyper-local online start ups, citizen bloggers, and media giants hiring cheap freelancers. AOL, which is in the midst of transitioning to an ad-supported business model, is vying to dominate the hyper-local market with an experimental network of Patch websites. Given the company's plan to hire 500 journalists for the rapidly expanding division, it's a fair question to ask whether or not local, mostly print-only, newspapers will go virtually extinct.
Interesting. Certainly on-line news has put a serious dent in the cash flow of such big city dailies as the Los Angeles Times and the Pasadena Star News. So why wouldn't a local blog such as AOL's Sierra Madre Patch be able to absorb a lot of the available advertising dough here in Sierra Madre? And with the costs of maintaining a blog being far less than the expenses a paper must contend with, added to the already precarious finances of dinosaur enterprises like local print news weeklies in today's economy, I don't think it would take all that much push them over the edge. Certainly they don't need the competition.
Another way that papers such as the Mountain Views News might be threatened by Patch is it actually pays its contributers. Yours truly has been offered $50 a column should I wish to contribute. And while I have declined that honor, perhaps Rich Johnson or Hail "Bopp" Hamilton might consider those greener (so to speak) pastures. I should think $50 would be quite a bounty for the kinds of writing they produce.
Forbes.com also weighed in on the Patch concept.
Patch offers local news and information in communities of 15,000 to 70,000 people, which AOL figures could have a local online advertising business worth a total of $20 billion. Each site covers a specific community, and is staffed by one paid journalist, who runs an average of 11 paid freelancers reporting on local stalwarts like city government, police and fire department actions, schools and local sports. There is also user-generated content, much like letters to the editor in traditional papers.
But what is it like actually editing something like a Sierra Madre Patch? Will John Stephens have quality work experiences while bringing news of cookie sales and dog washes to the information hungry populace of our little town? Here media beat writer Michelle V. Rafter gives her take on what's up with all this.
AOL's Patch hyperlocal hiring spree - boon or bane for writers? This week AOL announced that it's got Patch bureaus up and running in 100 neighborhoods, each one staffed by a full-time reporter/editor, helped in part by contributions from local freelancers. AOL also says it anticipates hiring another 400 Patch journos in coming weeks to expand to a total of 500 locations in 20 states by the end of 2010.
Depending on which news account you read, Patch editors make $37,000 to $40,000 a year, not bad for what is the equivalent of a editorial job at a community newspaper. Or is it?
According to accounts that are starting to trickle into the blogosphere from journos who've worked at Patch, the hours are long and the pressure to produce grueling, making the pay not so great after all. And that's the bad news.
One writer, Ed Pilolla, is this week writing a series of posts about his Patch experience, starting with why he took the job, his take on the pay and how many stories he was expected to produce a day. Pilolla, who apparently doesn't work for Patch any more, says he routinely put in 75 hours a week, which meant his annual salary worked out to be something like $10 an hour.
Whatever the case, I think we should wish John Stephens all the luck in the world. And let's hope he gets lots of our town's advertising revenue for his Sierra Madre Patch. Anything that he might take away from the Sierra Madre Weekly or Mountain Views News is truly God's work.
And please, go check out his site before he runs out of Sierra Madre restaurants to write about.