First, let’s be clear: the pursuits of journalism and the pursuits of publishing aren’t the same.
Journalists seek to create compelling information that is helpful and news-worthy.
Publishing seeks to push more product, deliver higher circulation value, and create more value for sponsors/advertisers/money-holders.
Publishers need content creators of some stripe to do what they do. Journalists don’t need publishers, but publishers pay, so that’s a decent place to connect with an audience and be paid.
But never confuse the two.
The move by AOL is both smart for business and helpful for journalists who’ve lost their jobs.
I have to disagree with some major points here. I would submit that journalism at its heart isn't about delivering compelling content. Journalism is about delivering useful information that sheds light on a difficult or under-the-radar topic. If the content is "compelling," all the better.
I make this distinction very carefully because of the mindset that each demands. If the concept of "compelling" content is foremost in a writer's mind, the basic tenets of journalism (fairness, thoroughness, accuracy) can fall by the wayside. It's more important for the writer who purports to be a journalist to think first about basic journalism skills.
While I like the ideas that engendered the Patch.com and Your Town initiatives, there is a danger inherent in mixing the ideas of publishing and journalism. See also: examiner.com. That one pays "journalists" based on the clicks they get. Since the pay is based not per-article or per-week, the incentive is for writers to pick incendiary topics that will draw traffic.
If there is going to be a courtship between these two concepts, it needs to allow for journalistic orthodoxy and independence.
My point is it is near impossible to not "confuse the two" when in many of these initiatives, a writer is expected to do both.