When I last checked in with former Seattle P-I columnist Mike Lewis, he was spending most of his time pouring drinks and growing business at the Streamline Tavern, the Lower Queen Anne bar he purchased with three partners last year.
Lewis, who lost his job at the P-I when the paper ceased publication as a print news product, admitted to missing journalism. Though he still wrote freelance articles, he longed for the chaos of a newsroom and the excitement of regularly chasing down scoops.
He didn’t have to miss the news biz for long. Lewis recently signed on as Seattle regional editor for Patch, AOL’s new neighborhood news network. He’ll oversee 12 local Patch sites south of Seattle. AOL still needs to hire a second regional editor to run 12 blogs north of the city.
Today, Patch launched the first of its Seattle sites, University Place Patch. The next sites slated for launch in the Seattle area are Bellevue, Mercer Island, Bonney Lake-Sumner, and Lakewood. They will likely go live at the end of October.
Lewis didn’t seek out the Patch position on his own. He only heard about AOL’s ambitious nationwide neighborhood news efforts in July, a full year after AOL acquired the start-up Patch Media and began growing the network. One of Lewis’ former Seattle University journalism students had been speaking to a Patch recruiter about becoming a local editor, and she recommended Lewis for the regional editor position.
When Patch’s hiring team called up Lewis, he wasn’t sure if he wanted the job. But he met Patch’s west coast editorial director, Marcia Parker, at the Seattle Marriott, and after a few hours together he became convinced that AOL was serious about the venture.
Lewis learned AOL planned to spend $50 million to build Patch this year alone, and another $50 million next year. He sensed the company’s enthusiasm for the project and dedication to hiring good people.
“I like the way they are running things,” Lewis said. “AOL is taking a big gamble on this and putting a lot of money into it.”
Lewis hopes his role as regional editor will allow him to do some writing down the road. Right now, he’s working on hiring local editors for the 24 community sites around the region. Patch will also bring on board a roving editor, copy editor, sports editor, and calendar editor for each of the 12-site clusters in the Seattle area.
Patch offered Lewis his choice of north or south Seattle, and he selected south, mainly because he spent more time there reporting when he was at the Seattle P-I. Should the company hire a second regional editor with strong preference for the south end, however, Lewis is also willing to work with the north communities.
AOL has no plans at the moment to start sites for any of the urban Seattle neighborhoods, and Lewis said the city is already saturated with local blogs. Patch can compete in the suburbs, Lewis said. He could see the company eventually starting another 12-site cluster in another populated region of the state, however.
Nationwide, Patch currently has 220 sites in 17 states, with 16 more sites slated to go live this week. By next year, AOL plans to have 1,000 editors, making it one of the largest employers of journalists in the country.
Working for Patch reminds Lewis of being at a fast-moving, well-funded start-up. He’s juggling the time consuming new gig with finishing up several freelance projects and working one night a week at the Streamline.
“I’m running as hard as I can to get everything out,” Lewis said. “But that’s the nature of modern journalism.”