You Just Can’t Stop ‘Em …

Editor’s Note: Pem McNerney, who wrote this, is a former employee of Patch.

A week and a day after the latest layoffs from Patch, the hyperlocal news operation now run by Hale Group and AOL, several of those laid off in the latest round have pivoted quickly and figured out what they want to do.

Some have found new jobs at other local news operations, others have opened their own companies, and at least one is moving to Finland. Many others are still contemplating their options and some, I imagine, are taking a series of long naps to catch up on their sleep. That seems a wise move. It was a wild and crazy four years.

Cassandra Day, who ran Middletown Patch, was just named editor of the Middletown Press.

Cassandra Day, who ran Middletown Patch, was just named editor of the Middletown Press. She is shown here with a co-worker at the opening of Day's photo exhibit in Middletown Feb. 6. Her co-worker said the Middletown Press has wanted to hire Day back for a while, and is thrilled to have her back. Photo credit: Pem McNerney

And there are those who just can’t quit local.

So they’re opening up their own hyperlocal news sites. Immediately after word of the latest layoffs spread on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, most of us received a mini-barrage of offers from companies that specialized in hyperlocal publishing, wanting to talk.

After reviewing those offers, Bill Bittar and Kate Ramunni, both of whom were laid off on Wednesday, had by Thursday, Feb. 6 decided on a course of action.

They both opened sites that are being supported by Independent Media Network, LLC, based in Connecticut. IMN already supports more than 70 independent Connecticut websites and logs over 4 million impressions monthly. They split net revenue 50/50 with member publishers, and the content produced is owned entirely by the member publishers.

IMN isn’t just a business, it’s also a community where both best practices and content are shared.

According to IMN’s website, they also offer the following:

  • “advice on how to develop the right business model specific to your publication”
  • “free site hosting on a new WordPress install (along with problem solving backup when something goes wrong)”
  • “use of our ad server (crucial to developing trust for sponsors)”
  • “basic advertising tools including a rate card and ad contract”
  • “a step by step plan to make the best use of social networks and email to build your audience, and…”
  • “a community of journalists, bloggers, writers, photographers, and others who care about what you do. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel.”
  • According to Doug Hardy, the head of IMN, said he is talking with other former Patchers as well, in addition to Bittar and Ramunni.

    Bittar said he did not have to think long before decided to open up his new site, All About Monroe.

    Bill Bittar has started up "All About Monroe."

    Bill Bittar has started up "All About Monroe."

    “I grew up in Monroe and covered the town for the Monroe Courier, the CT Post and Patch and never felt closer to the people in other towns I’d covered over the years,” he said.

    “It made me think I could get a site off the ground there. I called it All About Monroe, because I want it to be as hyperlocal as Patch was in its earlier days. Patch was a great experience.”

    Patch was a great experience? Is he talking about a company that just laid him off? Yes, in fact, while no one likes to get laid off, the prevailing sentiment among many former Patchers is that, while it was a wild and crazy experience at times, it was a most amazing one as well.

    Basically, we got paid decent salaries (with benefits and several parties thrown in as well) to learn how to become multimedia journalists and social media experts, adept at handling the constant change presented by the online world. Pivot? Former Patchers are expert at that, and most of us can keep our balance while doing so.

    Bittar got in touch with Hardy from IMN through a former co-worker who started her own site. He also spoke with Paul Bass from the New Haven Independent to pick his brain, and met with others as well. Bittar also spoke with someone who started a Monroe, CT-only site a few years ago. It didn’t make it.  “So I wanted to hear his insights,” Bittar said.

    Bittar said he decided to go with IMN because, in the end, “Doug Hardy of the INM has been an amazing help.” Bittar bought his site from GoDaddy, and IMN is hosting it at no charge. Hardy “designed my banner for me and guided me through creating a Word Press site, troubleshooting and doing things for me in a number of cases. He really seems dedicated to having a coalition of independent sites working together to succeed.”

    So, how is he going to make enough money to support it? He has a few ideas.

    “Paul Bass operates his site as a non-profit and he told me big donors willing to fund $10k or more per year really make it work,” Bittar said. And, “I’m going to pursue the revenue model that CTNewsJunkie has: Advertising and donations from readers. Other potential ways to make money may come from directory listings.”

    Ramunni, who has started up Hamden Times, said she too went with IMN because of the level of support provided. Ramunni, who grew up in Hamden and moved back in 2002.

    She was the founding editor of Hamden Patch from September 2010 to January 2014. Her journalism experience also includes her work as the Naugatuck Valley Bureau Chief at the Connecticut Post in Bridgeport.

    The Hamden Times might try to support its revenue stream through donations, like many other hyperlocal sites.

    The Hamden Times might try to support its revenue stream through donations, like many other hyperlocal sites.

    “The main reason I went with IMN is because of the support and the supplemental ad revenue,” she said. “The only other options I was aware of charged a fee, where IMN didn’t, which also was a factor.”

    As she’s starting up, she said she’s going to try to sell ads herself, but she says she likely will try to come up with other revenue sources as well.

    “I’m going to get out there and try to sell ads, but will probably hire someone because I am terrible at sales. I’ll end up giving the ads away for free because I hate asking people for money,” she said.

    Many journalists will tell you quite honestly that they struggle with the business side of journalism. Like Ramunni and Bittar, they keep doing it because they love hyperlocal and they love their towns.

    It’s nice to see IMN giving journalists like that a shot at making it work.

    If you’re a hyperlocal journalist who has started up your own site, I would love to talk with you about how you’re making it work. Email me at

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