Friday, February 11, 2011

Arianna Huffington, "The AOL Way" & Patch: Perfect Together?

The internet was all abuzz this week over the merger of the Huffington Post and AOL. The faltering on-line giant, desperate for cachet and a reason for viewers to spend time with their myriad properties (including the now lifestyle kitsch oriented Patch) dropped a big $315 million to acquire this bastion of supposed liberal leaning on-line journalism. Many fine writers and media critics worked very hard to make sense of it all, and most of them did not have very civil things to say.

But out of everything I could find to cite for this piece about friends such as those at the Sierra Madre Patch, there was one web entry that stood out over all others. Click here to witness the terrible beauty of it for yourself. Oh, and be sure to follow the subtitles.

The key to understanding where AOL sees itself going over these next few years is to read all about it in the information supplied by the internet conglomerate itself. A website called The Business Insider scored something of a coup last week when they acquired an internal corporate document entitled "The AOL Way." And in a move that would warm the heart of any Tattler, posted it on-line so that all the world could revel in the shame of it all.

TBI.com explained it this way: "AOL is using this document to train editors right now. It is an illuminating look into how AOL, a company with hundreds of millions in dollars in annual funding, is trying to turn itself into a 21st century media giant on the fly." Here are some of the things they highlighted in the article:

- AOL tells its editors what topics to cover based on four considerations: traffic potential, revenue potential, edit quality and turn-around time.
- AOL asks its editors to decide whether to produce content based on "the profitability consideration."
- The documents reveal that AOL is, when the story calls for it, willing to boost traffic by 5 to 10% with search ads and other "paid media."
- AOL site leaders are expected to have eight ideas for packages that could generate at least $1 million in revenue on hand at all times.
- In-house AOL staffers are expected to write five to 10 stories per day.

If you would like to ponder "The AOL Way" for yourself, you can view the entire document by clicking here.

Now for most the language TBI.com employs probably comes off as being a bit abstract and insider. They're obviously writing for media professionals. And while AOL's purported news sites are being asked to put page view driving content over quality news coverage, there are lots of crap media outlets run by control freaks in this world who do that sort of thing. Turn on your television and you'll see that schlock media is nothing new.

But a run through some of the recent articles posted to the Sierra Madre Patch shows the possible influence "The AOL Way" is having on our local outpost of their experiment in "hyper-local journalism." With titles like "Most Romantic Restaurants for Valentine's Day," "VIDEO: Bieber Fever Hits Westfield Santa Anita Mall," "Great Escape: Get Pampered In Sierra Madre" and "Dear Sierra Madre Moms: We Need Your Help!" (does Patch have diaper rash?), you can see where "The AOL Way" hopes to take us.

Throw in an occasional disinformation gambit like Tim Chapman's piece on the Prop 218 process here in Sierra Madre and you have quite a noisome little stew. A mix not all that dissimilar to what The Looney Views News serves up.

Tim Rutten, in an opinion piece published by the Los Angeles Times, got right down to the consequences of the AOL/Huffington Post merger:

Consider first AOL's pre-merger efforts, which centered on a handful of commentators and a national network of intensely local news sites called Patch. The quality of those efforts varies widely, but the best ones are edited by journalists who lost their jobs in the layoffs and buyouts that have beset traditional news organizations over the last decade. These editor-reporters are given reasonable benefits and salaries that are about what beginning reporters at major newspapers were paid three decades ago. Their contributors, by contrast, are paid a maximum of $50 an article, often less.

The results pretty much conform to the old maxim that you get what you pay for; the best Patch journalism almost invariably is being done by experienced journalism who do the work out of idealism or desperation. What happens when the pool of exploitable surplus labor dries up - as it will with time - is anybody's guess, but the smart money would bet on something that isn't pretty.

Rutten then goes on to explain how The Huffington Post fits in with The AOL Way. Arianna's profitable practice of not paying contributors could be the wave of the future under the new regime.

The other partner to this dubious arrangement is The Huffington Post, which is a new-media marvel of ingenuity, combining a mastery of editing geared to search engines that stimulate Web traffic and overhead that would shame an antebellum plantation. The bulk of the site's content is provided by commentators, who work for nothing other than the opportunity to champion causes or ideas to which they're devoted. Most of the rest of the content is "aggregated" - which is to say stolen - from the newspapers and television networks that pay journalists to gather and edit news...

The fact is that AOL and The Huffington Post simply recapitulate in the new media many of the worst abuses of the old economy's industrial capitalism - the sweatshop, the speedup and piecework; huge profits for the owners; desperation, drudgery and exploitation for the workers. No child labor, yet, but if there were more page views in it...

Debra J. Saunders, in an opinion piece for the San Francisco Chronicle (reprinted in the Pasadena Star News), dissects one of the key reasons for Huffington's wild financial success - exploiting the idealism (naivete?) of her volunteer writers.

In one of her many iterations, Arianna Huffington targeted "corporate greed" as a force undermining America. That was during one of her populist phases, which frequently are followed by Huffington morphing into what she once scorned. Score another transformation for La Huff. On Sunday, AOL announced it would pay $315 million, mostly in cash, to buy the left-wing website she co-founded, Huffington Post. The merger and acquisition also will place Huffington at the helm of AOL's new Huffington Post Media Group division.

Huffington is an entrepreneurial genius at self-promotion. She fiercely surfed the left's discontent with mainstream - read: corporate - journalism by promising to keep mainstream - read: paid - news media "honest." Then she rode that left-wing discontent all the way to the bank. Now she writes like a corporate flack, lauding the "merger of visions" made possible after business-savvy CEO Eric Hippeau "monetized" the Huffington Post.

Corporate greed? The New York Post reported that since Feb. 1, AOL shares declined some $2 per share - devaluing the company by about $315 million, or what AOL agreed to pay Huffpo. At least in this case, the market has taste.

Over on the very lively news site The Daily Beast they have been taking some strong shots at the Huffington/AOL merger and what it means for real journalism:

The other, bigger problem is AOL itself. AOL touts itself as a media company, but as Ken Auletta reported in The New Yorker recently, most of what AOL publishes is junk, and 80 percent of its profits come from a rather seedy little business - charging subscription fees from longtime users who don't realize that they no longer need to pay for AOL service, and could be getting it for free.

Much of AOL's dysfunction was laid bare just one week ago when Business Insider, a blog, got hold of a leaked AOL memo called "The AOL Way," which purports to instruct AOL's hacks on how to practice their craft. It's all about making stories based on traffic potential. It's all about numbers - and volume. It's a depressing, sickening, embarrassing document. AOL's hacks are expected to write 5 to 10 articles a day - which puts me in mind of the scene in Ben-Hur where the slaves are out to work rowing a Roman warship, and their Roman master tells them, "We keep you alive to serve this ship. So row well, and live."

Business Insider quoted one AOL "journalist" as saying, "AOL is the most f***** up bullsh** company on earth," and then adding that joining AOL was "the worst career move I've ever made."

But enough of that. I need to get over to the Sierra Madre Patch to get the latest news on where to get dogs washed and coiffed in town.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

62 comments:

  1. Bieber fever. Catch it at the Sierra Madre Patch.

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  2. wow, the Patch pays $ 50 per article, if you are lucky $ 50. The Patch probably has a budget of $ 1,000 a month for writers...who don't ck their facts...completely miss the context of a story....whine and hack editorials or random thoughts of Lambinisms as a writing style and write to an audience of 200 or so.

    well at least the Patch pays 5 times the amount of the Mt View News for a contribution

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  3. aol? that rip off company is still around?

    they pulled the bait and switch internet provider service with me - wouldn't cancel my membership and everytime I called for a simple questions, I got routed to a boileroom high pressure salesperson who tried to force me to listen to a laundry list of options for a service I called in to cancel. I finally closed my bank account because my bank said that they couldn't stop the transfer. I found a new bank and dumped aol.

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  4. The fact that 80% of their cash comes from ripping off older users who think they still need to pay for their entirely primitive web service puts AOL entirely the pale. Creepsville.

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  5. An attorney for the Huffington Post in 2008 donated large amounts of money to the campaigns of John Buchanan and Enid Joffe.
    I always wondered why? Why are these people interested in Buchanan and Joffe getting elected to little Sierra Madre's City Council?
    The same year 2008, the L.A. Democratic Party made canned calls to all registered Democrats in Sierra Madre, urging them to NOT VOTE FOR MARYANN MACGILLIVRAY, because......she is a Republican????? WTF was the purpose of that in our small and supposedly non-partisan office of City Council member?
    This fact is documented on the campaign donations report filed with the State of Calif, required by law.

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  6. Hi, My name is John and I work for AOL.

    Oh, hello John and you have my sympathy.

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  7. Patch is the DSP of websites.

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  8. this is good now i know were to complain ,left right and center at http://www.kcrw.com/news/programs/lr
    they have a blog
    anybody know what is up with the general plan and the land use section

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  9. More than creepsville - illegalville, isn't it? Where's the Better Business Bureau? Where are the District Attorneys who are supposed to stop fraudulent business practices?

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  10. I always liked Arianna's shtick on KPCC's Left Right and Center. She always claimed to be out there somewhere beyond political ideology. A lesson her no pay mostly liberal writers discovered when she sold their gullible arses out to AOL for a third of a billion..

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  11. Bait and switch of another variety--I witnessed an exchange between a member of the Canyon Residential Zone committee and a councilman during Tuesday's CC meeting on the canyon wash in regards to the tax payments of those who have lots with portions used for the wash easement.

    I have in front of me the 2010 Tax Bill for a lot that this situation describes and it states under Property Location and/or Property Description: LOT EX OF FLOOD CONTROL EASEMENT. Then for the same lot I have a 1972 Improvement Act Bond Register, which is the payment document for the Sewer Assessment for the City of Sierra Madre, which states: LOT, EXCLUDING OF FLOOD CONTROL EASEMENT.

    Some owners of lots along the Sierra Madre Wash and this councilman think they have use of the wash to calculate their lot coverage. They need to look at their tax bill and the sewer payment record to determine the easement excusion from their financial responsibility of that portion of the lot used for the flood control facility.

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  12. Great link to the animated brief history!
    You can read the subtitles, but you can also choose the English version, in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

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  13. I wonder how much money AOL thinks they're going to suck out of Sierra Madre?

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  14. Patch has to adhere to SEO - Search Engine Optimization.

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  15. 8:58 Thanks for setting the record straight.

    If I understand you correctly, the parcel owner owns the property but does not pay tax on the easement which is under the control of the Flood Control District.

    If this is correct then no squarefootage. Also when they owner bought the property the easement is discribed to tne title. Also the wash is kind of hard to miss even at night.

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  16. Rutten is so right about the child labor being in the pipeline, as in Hey Sierra Madre Moms, we want to hear from Sierra Madre kids too! Write a story, win a lollypop! Draw a picture of Kersting Court, and we'll put it online!

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  17. 8:58. there was more than one person who claimed to pay taxes on the wash. It just goes to show how common it is that we pay these big bills, are bitter about them, and don't really get into the details. I tried once to get a property tax bill in another city straightened out in direct communication with the LA County Assessors Office - ended up being helped by some good people, but the complications got so frustrating that I ended up hiring a lawyer to do it. Worth every penny.
    Many homeowners don't know what exactly their property tax bills cover.

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  18. I read HuffPo daily. I respect many writers and like the sections of the blog like LA, NY, etc. I was shocked that Arriana sold to AOL, but after thinking about it, she is a business wooman who has proven to be savvy. However, I do read both hard and on -line papers.

    My point of view comes from many sources. I do not always agree with HuffPo, but critical thinking is what Americans should be doing.

    No one should stick to one side ever. Brainwashing is big business.

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  19. I think y'all have to realize one important fact about the free enterprise system. It eats everything and excretes profit. It is an incredibly flexible and productive system. But like the great white whale of Ahab's it leaves in its wake lots of flotsam.

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  20. Can't a property owner with a wash easement do the math? Multiply the amount of square footage on your deed by the tax rate, then multiply the amount of square footage on your deed minus the wash easement times the tax rate. Which answer matches your tax bill? It can't be both ways. Either you pay taxes on the entire lot, or you pay taxes on the entire lot minus the wash easement.

    Some of you may remember back to the mid 1970's when Flood Control was going to pave over the wash to make a one-way road. The foot and parking bridges would have given way to asphalt. What would have happened to the front yards, back yards, and mid sections of properties bounded by the wash easement? Folks with houses built right to the easement would have been opening their front/back doors into a roadway. The ones with parking bridges would have been left without parking. Doesn't constitute a taking because the County already has an easement,

    This is a mess and it would be good to have a definite statement from the County Flood Control and the Tax Assessor's offices.

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  21. ruthless businessmanFebruary 11, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    After reading this about Huff poast and AOL,'s mind set, I can see why it's important to keep a 3rd eye on what goes on at the city and the council, it appears to me they both have the same mind set, profit over the people.
    Anything is open game for them

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  22. 8:58

    It sounds like those properties are in two pieces with the wash in between. When they people bought the property they did not buy the land which the wash was is on, only the land on both sides of it. This is very different from an easement for a gas line or cable tv box. They should read their legal property description.

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  23. If I was one of the property owners affected by the wash easement and I paid taxes on my property I'd be plenty p***** that the guy down the street didn't. What's that all about?

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  24. Someone said that if the county decided it no longer needed the easement it would have to be quit claimed back to the property owner.

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  25. Methinks this thread is giving Sir Eric another investigative article.
    Wasssssup with the wash prop taxes

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  26. AOL reporters have to write 5 to 10 stories a day? The mind boggles. Do many of them jump out windows?

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  27. 10:44 - you're thinking about legitimate news stories. What AOL writers pump out is content. One about Lady Gaga, one about Elton John, and then three about Justin Bieber. Couple paragraphs each with a big publicity shot provided by the artists' management.

    You'd be home from work in plenty of time for dinner and TV.

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  28. Look at the Country Assessor's site. You can easily look at any parcel map. The measurements are given for each property. When the wash bisects the property the measurement are given for both pieces of property. The homeowner DO NOT OWN the wash. Someone please get an official anwer from the county so that Josh and the others can see the official answer.

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  29. Great content today, Tattler! ;)

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  30. As long as the space is filled up, right? Thinking of a new slogan: "The Sierra Madre Tattler - where we aggregate the aggregators."
    Or should that be "aggravate?"

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  31. I went over to Patch and made the mistake of watching the Justin Bieber video. Now my computer has "Bieber Fever" and keeps taking me to his fan sites. Damn you Patch!

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  32. Is Bieber Fever a computer virus?

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  33. You folks with the easement better file an appeal before the assessment appeals board or you'll give up your rights. In other words, do something. And by the way, what you can do under the easement depends on what the easement says. An easement is by definition less than full ownership so they may not be able to do just anything they want--like pave your yard.

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  34. There you go.....Charlley K.,you ahve opend up a BIG CAN O'WORMS!There not going to like you varry much down at Public Works.

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  35. I bought a pack of Easemints the last time I was in Mary's Market. Took the dead fish taste out of my mouth.

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  36. The wash was built befor "Brookside Path was made into a street Hummmm?

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  37. Yes ,1:42.Its not about "easemints".Its about "baffelmints".at city hall.

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  38. read blogs but not that oneFebruary 11, 2011 at 2:36 PM

    Is there really Patch content on a little teeny bop star?
    That's odd. More OK Magazine territory.

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  39. Huffington is a multimillionaire, yeah? And she was before the AOL purchase, so the gal is either savvy about money or has hired good financial advisors around her. The fact that she is stingy with the help is not a surprise. What is a surprise is that she's going into the infotainment business. I never followed her writing much, but have certainly seen her in debates and discussions, and she doesn't seem very, well, Bieberish.

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  40. Yes, its a video. But don't download it. Your computer will catch Bieber Fever.

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  41. There are no doubt comprehensive answers to what the status is regarding the wash in the canyon, and who pays what.
    But nobody on this thread knows - and worse, there's a chance that nobody in the Los Angeles County Assessors office knows either!
    Maybe one of our city attorney's can straighten it out.

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  42. Journalism that is written to get the greatest number of page views is not journalism. It's pandering. Recall that the Downtown Dirt website devotees announced that it had many tens of thousands of hits in its first few weeks. Think that video is still up on Neuroblast. The number reported is of course suspect, but on the other hand, if they were that large, how many of those hits were porn searches for "dirty downtown" or that kind of thing?

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  43. Maybe Bieber will buy AOL.

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  44. I dont think so,2:44.unless some one over the last 50 years burned the the papers down at the "Hall".??????????

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  45. 2:52, the video is still up. Go to the Neuroblast link the Tattler has, and look for "Lisa Spigai-Perez announces a new" for the clip.

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  46. I suspect Bieber has very good financial advisors and is more likely to buy an 8 track manufacturing plant in the Phillipines than America On Line.

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  47. One of the little secrets, is the information on whatever you are trying to find probably is gone, kaput. It is the city attorny's way of limiting the litigation paper trail. This includes building plans, etc. When work is done the city it usually "dissappears" after work is completed.
    The only thing they hang on to are the permit cards, but even they have gone missing.
    When the county transferred its building records to the building department in the 50's, much went missing, so, much/some, of the older property records can only be found at the LA County Recorders office.
    The city used to keep important stuff in the basement, but over the years many documents including legal zoning info has gone away.
    During the DSP debacle, boxes of records walked out of the basement, or should I call them "what records?". That is a question you would have to ask the gang in charge 10 years ago about.
    So much for easement agreements.

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  48. Before Huff became a "progressive liberal" she was married to a very wealthy Republican politition who died and left her mucho dinero.

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  49. Well, well, well. Wouldn't you like to know where to dig in the dump for the records? One old timer tells of watching loads and loads of papers going into the trash bin when Sierra Madre moved from the old city hall to the new one. The businessman on the corner, at the old coin shop, went dumpster diving but even what he rescued is long gone!

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  50. Some talented individual needs to get this kind of stuff into a book.

    "Sierra Madre's Hidden History"

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  51. Michael Huffington was an Orange County Republican politician who was gay; they divorced; she kept the kids; now she and her former spouse (he's the one with money) are "good friends".

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  52. Michael Huffington ran for the US Senate as a strong conservative. Arianna was right there with him on that side of the spectrum. Once the race was over and he was soundly trounced, news of his sexuality went public. They divorced and Arianna took on a fighting liberal personna. In the process attracting many of the people who worked selflessly (and paylessly) for the cause. Now she's moved on once again.

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  53. The very rich are like that. They try on political positions and beliefs like clothes. When they become unfashionable they buy new ones.

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  54. Just talked to the LA County Tax Assessor. "Read the Grant Deeds."

    Also "Call the LA County Flood Control District on Monday"

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  55. 4:17, thanks for that active initiation of problem solving! Refreshing.

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  56. Service the AOL wayFebruary 11, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    12:22 go to your "tools" hit internet options and then delete your browsing history, it will delete any little patchy cookies.

    When I read the story, this morning it reminded me of a video on youtube, I saw a while back, I found a copy by Skoolya2 titled "Gov. Bill Clinton and Larry King off air during his run for president" It captured a moment when Larry King was talking to Clinton on a break and King says "Ted Turner changed the world he is a big fan of yours, "He ah would serve you", and he is ready what else has he got to gain, I'd call him after the election" it was done in 1992.

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  57. Somebody explain to me if this is incorrect:
    There is a service that people running a web site can pay for that will give them addresses of those who come on the site. I'm not techy enough to follow much more than that, but that was enough for me. I suspect that when you go on a site like AOL's patch, your automatically shuffled along to other lists for other commercial interests.

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  58. I had a most unpleasant surprise on my driveway yesterday -the Looney Views.

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  59. Imagine if you spent 4 years in college and your journalism degree gets you a gig at aol patch?

    no degree or talent necessary

    and forget about pesky fact checking

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  60. I think you can pretty much count on your information being 'captured' when you visit an AOL site like Patch. Pretty much how the big Internet companies like Facebook do business.

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  61. Why Bieber on our hyperlocal site?
    Bieber is a search engine spectacular.

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  62. Maybe they should change the name of the site to the Sierra Madre Bieber Patch.

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