In the mid-1960s the upstart Westport News challenged the established, staid Town Crier.
Earlier this decade WestportNow.com roared onto the scene, altering the speed and means by which Westporters got their news.
This week, Westport’s media landscape changes again.
Westport Patch is scheduled to launch Wednesday, the day after elections. Like its sister sites in Wilton, Darien, New Canaan and Ridgefield — and Westport-type communities in New Jersey, including Maplewood, Scotch Plains and Westfield — Westport Patch is one answer to the undeniably decreasing (and fast fading) role newspapers play in American society.
It’s also a higher-tech, more interactive — and sexier — version of WestportNow, one of the 1st such sites in the nation, and at the time a pioneer of the community website genre.
The Westport News website is similar to Patch — though many news stories, editorials and police reports are posted after they appear in print. The News site has not yet gained traction in town.
Westport Patch will include breaking news stories and photos. It’s also got:
- Maps — so when you read about (I’m making this up) a rash of burglaries on Peaceful Lane, you’ll know exactly where it happened
- Videos — the Darien site includes a story on new lights for peewee football fields; the RTM rules committee going “off the record,” and a Darien High traffic campaign that students don’t like
- Announcements of coming events, births, even — hey, this is what hyper-local means — a mention that “Fred Gaston, 50, of Wilton finished in 8th place in Sunday’s New Canaan-to-Wilton Great Train Race”
- Sports results — this is pretty flexible; the Darien site recently noted “DHS Wizards Gear Up for Quidditch”
- Police and Fire reports
- Restaurant reviews
- A townwide directory, with info on everything from beaches, businesses and doctors to the railroad station, town officials and movie theaters (a slim category in Westport, for sure)
- Comments by users
Interactivity is key. Anyone can add events to the community calendar — and post announcements, photos, even videos.
Each Patch has its own editor. Westport’s is Liz Mitchell. She’s completely new here, but spent the past several weeks learning the town. She’s met with everyone from Staples principal John Dodig and police chief Al Fiore to First Selectman Gordon Joseloff — who just happens to be the founder of WestportNow.com.
Westport Patch is free. It is not, however, a non-profit. Patch Media Corporation is owned by AOL. Word on the street is that AOL is pouring big bucks into the 12 existing Patches (with dozens more to be rolled out soon).
How will Patch make money? A 2-tiered ad system allows business owners to create online ads. Patch’s sales team works with individual businesses to “best satisfy their needs.”
Westport Patch’s influence on Westport could be profound. It could alter the way we get information about our town, and discuss that info.
It could help spread news about activities and events in an unprecedented, unfathomable way — bringing folks together in a cyber version of the old town square. For a good part of the 20th century, Westport’s main source of news was the Town Crier. A new town crier soon bursts on the scene.
Having said that, the jury is out. I’ve spoken to people in several communities that already have Patch. They like it a lot — but it hasn’t become a habit. It has yet to generate a buzz, they say — they don’t hear friends and neighbors saying, “Oh, did you see on Patch today…?”
Perhaps that’s because those towns don’t have a WestportNow, so they haven’t gotten into the habit of turning to their computers for local news. Or perhaps — like Betamax — it’s a great idea at the wrong time.
No one yet knows if this Patch will stick. But one thing is for sure: On Wednesday, the big news in town will be the news itself.
(“06880” likes the idea of Westport Patch — and thinks there’s a place in town for a blog and another news source. Time will tell.)