Marques Hunter, editor of Lakewood Patch. Photo courtesy of Lakewood Patch.
'Patch'-work builds community connection
Marques Hunter (IAS ’04) says editing the online news site, Lakewood.patch.com, is like hosting a cocktail party. The host wants guests to get up and dance, not just sit there and read.
At Lakewood Patch, that means encouraging readers to comment on news stories or respond to a plea for volunteers. Readers can post an event on the website calendar or rate one of the 1,700 Lakewood-area businesses in the site’s database.
“It’s a way for the community to get involved and engaged in what’s happening around town,” said Hunter.
Lakewood Patch is part of a national network of 850 “hyperlocal” websites that intensively cover news and information in specific geographic communities. Owned by Internet company AOL, Patch sites serve as virtual hubs to learn what’s happening in a neighborhood or town, be it the latest crime, high school football scores, or review on the new restaurant down the block. Patch has 14 sites in Western Washington, from Bellevue to Enumclaw to University Place.
As editor, Hunter writes articles, manages community bloggers and freelancers and decides which features will appear on the website. After a year as the site’s inaugural editor, he’s learned it’s not possible to cover everything in Lakewood, a city of 60,000 residents just south of Tacoma, and in nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord. So the site focuses on four topics: military, crime, local government and schools.
His favorite stories? Lakes High School winning its first-ever state boys basketball championship, the one-year anniversary of the slaying of four Lakewood police officers, and an attempt to ban electronic cigarettes.
Community members are noticing.
“Unlike other news outlets, Patch is Lakewood-focused, which allows readers to find local news easily,” said Mike Savage, the City of Lakewood’s director of communications and government relations.
“In addition, Patch reporters also post stories quickly, often attending city council meetings and publishing stories shortly after their conclusion. Overall, Patch’s platform benefits the community by giving it fast access to local information.”
Hunter, 30, seems a natural fit for the job of site editor. The Mount Tahoma High School graduate grew up in South Tacoma, which borders the City of Lakewood. His first teen job was as a courtesy clerk in a Lakewood grocery store, and his parents still work in Lakewood.
Aside from his geographic roots, Hunter’s passion lies in community journalism – although that career path wasn’t initially obvious.
He had no idea what field to pursue when he started community college courses at Pierce College. That changed when Hunter, who’s Caucasian and African American, attended a conference for students of color and wrote an essay about what it means to be a minority going to college.
The essay was so well written it was published in a college newsletter.
“It made me really excited and let me see a future in writing,” Hunter said.
He transferred to UW Tacoma to study mass communications and became managing editor of The Ledger, the bi-monthly campus newspaper.
“It was melding learning in class with learning hands on,” Hunter said. “It really gave me a better understanding of the challenges of trying to manage a small newspaper publication. ... It’s helped immensely in my career.”
“The Gig Harbor community loves sports,” Hunter said. “They accepted me for the fact I worked hard, did my best and promoted the sports scene. … I was really happy with where I was.”
But in the summer of 2010, as the traditional print news industry foundered, Hunter received an offer to launch Lakewood Patch. It was a potentially risky proposition, considering the mixed fate of other online-only news sites.
Hunter eagerly leapt into the digital frying pan.
“This is an experiment, but I think it will pay off,” he said. “We’re not an online newspaper. We’re more like the three C’s – community, content and conversation. We’re driven by engagement.
“We want people to get involved in various conversations and forums that we invent on the website.”
While individual site traffic information isn't made public, Patch averages around 10 million users per month nationally, Hunter said.
“I think Patch has a long way to go, but we’re getting there,” he said. “We have a pretty enthusiastic team in Washington that’s ready and willing to take on that challenge.”
Check out Marques Hunter’s work at lakewood.patch.com.
– Debby Abe