The Oconee County media scene will have a new player come the first of the year if AOL launches the hyperlocal web site for Watkinsville it has in the plans.
Perry Parks, a Georgia regional editor for AOL’s Patch.com project, said he expects to hire a professional editor for Watkinsville and Oconee County next month. That editor will be in charge of Oconee County exclusively and will have a budget to hire stringers to help with local coverage.
That coverage, according to Parks, will include Oconee County government, schools, sports, culture and politics. Patch.com will have a dedicated web site for Oconee County that also will serve as a portal or one-stop gateway for other news sites and blogs in the county, he said.
Parks is even closer to having a staff person operating in Athens/Clarke County and is in the process of hiring staff for other counties in the state.
AOL is rolling out web Patch.com around the country and announced on Aug. 17 that it plans to hire 500 professional journalists in 20 states this year. Patch.com had 100 web sites operational at the time.
Patch.com now has about 300 sites up and has a goal of 500 sites by the end of the year, Parks said.
AOL is trying to move away from its historical roots as an Internet service provide to become a content provider.
“We are not trying to view ourselves as a competitor” of the county’s two weeklies, Parks said. “We want to be another voice. There is plenty of room in Watkinsville.”
Parks, who has taught at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and worked as a professional journalist, lives in Oconee County.
He said his goal is to hire someone to be Oconee County editor who will live in Oconee County and work out of the home.
The first assignment of the editor is to build a comprehensive directory of county businesses and governmental offices. The directory will contain copy produced by the editor and those working for her or him, but businesses will be able to pay for additional, premium listings.
This directory is the backbone of the local Patch.com sites and is expected to bring traffic to the sites, which also will contain advertising separate from the directory as well as the other news content.
Neither of the two weeklies, The Oconee Enterprise and The Oconee Leader, has a full-service web site, and both papers give priority to their print products.
The Enterprise has an unaudited circulation of 4,000. The Leader is a free, total market circulation product, with the post office delivering to each of the roughly 9,000 households in the county.
The daily Athens Banner-Herald also has an insert in the Wednesday edition of the paper dedicated to Oconee County.
“Our overriding philosophy is that if we have more voices competing it will increase the engagement throughout the county,” Parks said. “We will do well if everyone does well.”
Parks said Patch.com will take advantage of its ability to gets its news online quickly. “If news happens on Friday night, we will be able to report it on Friday night.”
Not everyone thinks AOL’s strategy is a winner. Reuters quoted a number of skeptics last week in a summary story it wrote on the company’s plans for Patch.com.
Newspaper companies also have had trouble converting from their business model involving the printed product.
Patch.com will be operating without the expenses of an ink-on-paper operation and without any of the newspaper assumptions about how to go about the business.
“What we are starting is not a newspaper,” Parks said. “It is a web only site.” The product will be entirely focused on the local community, he added, and will be professionally staffed.