Very hard to figure out what's going on with AOL's network of local news sites, but Rick Robinson says that the new emphasis seems to be on "trending topics" (i.e. sex and sensation) that will generate lots of clicks and might not have anything to do with the individual Patches. Of course, community news was the whole point behind Patch, or at least it was before the Huffington juggernaut moved in.
Some of the network's programming has turned toward the model followed by The Huffington Post and various (successful) content "farms" that draw readers in with off-topic sex appeal then deliver them off-site -- thanks for the clicks and ad views! Apparently Patch is not the only AOL property being tooled by Arianna Huffington and her corps: AOL itself has dipped into such urgent topics as how men who fake orgasms should masturbate more. Titillating for sure, and likely a clicker, but is this really helping anyone (not least the online business that oversees Patch)?
In the early days, editors at the local level had a great deal of control over editorial voice and direction. That began to change as we turned the corner from a disparate band of individual city sites connected by little more than ethos to a contiguous network that the sales group could sell to national advertisers. Managing that change is very difficult. It's a hard task to create relatively equal quality across a network while also assuring local personality, as Patch clearly is discovering today. But again, that HuffPo influence... it could mean less hand-wringing is in store for editors around localization and more about simply sexing things up.