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Patch for public relationsMost public relations professionals understand all too well that media options have shriveled.

Some of the latest figures: About 20 percent of all metro and community newspapers in the country — about 1,800 — have gone out of business or merged since 2004, according to the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism. Hundreds more have reduced coverage so much that they’ve become “ghost newspapers.” About 1,300 communities have completely lost news coverage, creating what’s called news deserts.

In Stratford, CT., where is headquartered, the local weekly newspaper, the Stratford Star shut down last year, severely curtailing local news options.  The nearby larger city newspaper, Connecticut Post, has cut back reporters and provides minimal coverage of Stratford and other suburbs.

Even online-only ventures have recently scaled back their staffs. Recent cuts at Gannett, Verizon Media and BuzzFeed amounted to more than 1,000 media jobs lost in a single day. A handful of large metro dailies are enjoying some degree of improved financial fortunes with the income from online ads or paywalls or help from a billionaire investor.

Digital-Only Hyper-Local News

However, local news in small and even mid-sized towns faces a dire outlook. Patch, a digital only, “hyper local” company, may offer an option for local news and local PR placements.

Media observers may recall Patch as a failed AOL digital-only venture from several years ago. At its height, Patch employed 540 people for 900 local news sites in 23 states. Financially, it flopped, and AOL sold control to Hale Global in 2014. Charles Hale, the company’s chairman, says the operation has since turned around.

The network of more than 1,200 hyper-local sites generates more than $20 million in annual ad revenue, Hale told Recode. It employs about 110 journalists overseen by former New York Times reporter Warren St. John.

Its reporting probably won’t win any Pulitzers. One reporter may cover multiple towns and meet quotas of multiple stories a day. Stories, if you can call them that, are high on car crashes, weather reports and real estate sales. It also uses artificial intelligence to write some posts.

Community Contributors Augment Coverage

Patch augments short staff reports with support from the community. Patch “community members” contribute news, typically local event announcements. “We’re not as deep as we aspire to be. We’re acutely aware of what we’re capable of and what we’re not capable of,” St. John told Recode.

A self-service platform lets small advertisers post ads. In its media kit, Patch asserts that its readers are high-income earners, homeowners and civically involved.

Local non-profit organizations, local businesses and companies with local operations can gain PR benefits through Patch.

However, it’s also possible for organizations not located in the community to win publicity. The key is to find a local connection in the news announcement. For instance, perhaps the organization has a local chapter or franchise or maybe someone on your staff or client’s staff has a local connection. Some news announcements from local sites appear on the Patch main page, potentially leading to greater national reach.

A media monitoring service can track mentions of the organization and its brands on Patch as well as other online sites and social media. Subscription tools save staff time by automating the search function across all media. An advanced media monitoring tool can also integrate media and social media mentions into a single dashboard that provides easily understandable reports that measure the success of your PR tactics.

Bottom Line: Patch may offer a PR avenue for local businesses and nonprofits. National and regional organizations can also win publicity on the local news sites if they find local connections to their announcements.