To blog or not to blog, that is the question; or more precisely, should you blog for free for AOL Patch? The San Leandro Patch, like its sister Patch properties all over the country, is out in force today recruiting bloggers. By one account, each Patch editor is supposed to sign up 5 to 10 bloggers by May 4th. This is an impressive target for a town like San Leandro, which counts with a total of two non-business blogs run by people not in my household. But hey, that just means there will be less competition!
The idea of running user blogs is a no brainer for the Patch, which is now run by Ariana Huffington. Blogs mean free unique content for AOL. They can place advertisements on these pages and make money (not shared with the blogger) and can also use it to increase their Google ranking if, as suspected, the Patch starts relying more on news aggregation. But is blogging for the Patch a good deal for a neophyte (or even established) blogger? It depends on whether you are willing to give up editorial freedom for some help in establishing a readership.
Creating a blog from scratch is pretty easy. All you have to do is go to a free-blog hosting site such as WordPress or Blogger, sign up, click a few times, enter some information and you are set to go. With a few more clicks you can link your blog to twitter and facebook (and other social media sites that you may use). But in order for your blog to be successful, you need to get readers – and that’s where being with Patch may help. While getting readers to your blog is not difficult, it is time consuming. You need to advertise yourself, leave comments in other blogs, remind your friends to link to you, etc. etc. If you blog with Patch, presumably they will post links to your blog postings on their main page and interested people will read you without any work on your part. This can be particularly valuable if you are not likely to update your blog frequently (more than 2 or 3 times a week) – you don’t have to worry about people forgetting about your blog when you are not posting. Now, bear in mind that the traffic that Patch is likely to direct to your page is limited, but it will amount to something.
There are, however, some strong reasons why you may want to stay an independent blogger. For one, by blogging for the Patch, you are basically working for free for a mega-corporation, which will not be inclined to share its profits with you. Indeed, a number of Huffington Blog bloggers are now suing Huffington for a share of the $315 Million that AOL paid for the Huffington Post. Working for free is perfectly OK, but there is something distasteful about doing it for someone who can well afford to pay you but just won’t.
More importantly is that by blogging for Patch you are giving up a lot of your editorial control. Patch has not yet published what their agreement with bloggers will look like, but if you take a look at the Huffington Post user agreement you get an idea of what to expect: they can terminate your blog or access to the site for any reason at any time without notice and they can do whatever they want with your material, including re-editing your videos, without sharing any profits with you. Indeed, I think the threat of editorial control is very real. Patch editors seem to routinely delete comments they dislike and Kari Hulac, a regional editor for Patch East Bay, privately e-mailed me to threaten to take me off the Patch when I made a comment questioning her truthfulness. And according to Hulac, an editor will have to approve your post before it’s published in the fist place.
Personally, I’m sticking with WordPress. At some point I’m hoping that someone will be create a San Leandro news & culture site that will draw postings from the whole community.