AOL Patch laid off hundreds of employees today in a conference-call announcement that affected perhaps 80 to 90 percent of its workforce.
Apparently, many Patch employees believed it was inevitable that the ax would fall.
In August, the financially-struggling hyperlocal news site issued pink slips to about 350-400 workers. Patch.com was launched in December 2007 by a range of tech investors and ex-media people (including future AOL CEO Tim Armstrong) and was purchased by AOL in June 2011.
A majority interest in Patch was sold off to turnaround firm Hale Global earlier this month, which indicated that it intended to keep Patch going. In the call this morning, however, Patch COO Leigh Zarelli Lewis reportedly had this to say (purported audio file embedded below):
“Hi everyone, it’s Leigh Zarelli Lewis. Patch is being restructured in connection with the creation of the joint venture with Hale Global. Hale Global has decided which Patch employees will receive an offer of employment to move forward in accordance with their vision for Patch and which will not. Unfortunately, your role has been eliminated and you will no longer have a role at Patch and today will be your last day of employment with the company… Thank you again and best of luck.”
Lewis also talked about various housekeeping items, including that further information on severance and other HR-related issues would be forthcoming via email and US mail. Severance could reportedly range from two to six months’ pay.
According to Fox Business, with all the staff departures, Patch — which has never been profitable — will engage in more news aggregation and less original content and that all sites will supposedly remain open. In addition, “A source with direct knowledge of the situation tells Fox Business that a ‘skeleton team’ of about 50 journalists will continue reporting efforts for Patch. Under 100 employees remain at Patch overall. The source says that at the eleventh hour, Tim Armstrong saved the journalists providing content at his local Greenwich Patch. AOL still owns about 40% of Patch.”
Journalism professor Richard Hanley of Quinnipiac Univeristy explained that the business model posed a challenge right from the start. “For one thing, he said, Patch executives underestimated the difficulty of getting advertisers in communities where local newspapers had been established for decades. Also, the tasks set out for editors — to cover an entire town — was too much for any one employee.”
Do you read or have you ever read the Patch website in your area?