Since Wednesday, Patch employees have been waiting for news of layoffs rumored to come coupled with the announcement of a strategy shift at at the massive hyperlocal. In a Friday morning conference call, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong delayed the layoff announcements, instead announcing a change in strategy to focus only on the best performing Patch sites.
“If it doesn’t sink in in a really real way, I’m going to ask to you leave Patch,” Armstrong said. “If you think what’s going on today is a joke, you should pick up your stuff and leave Patch today.”
“We’re going to focus on the 500 most important towns to Patch,” Armstrong said. Management aims to “move like lightning” to couple the 400 less-profitable sites into “partnerships” with local media outlets. Though he neglected to explain the format of the proposed partnerships, Armstrong said the new pairing would cut costs and help rid the company of the chasm between Patch’s community-minded mission statement and AOL’s corporate image; “the ‘not made here’ thing,” he said.
“Something at Patch has been missing and I think it’s been missing for a long time, and that’s leadership, with a capital ‘L,” said Armstrong, before announcing he would be joining Patch management again.
The rumored layoffs that Patch employees have been waiting for will still happen, Armstrong said, they’ll just be rolled out over the next seven days. “There’s no way around the fact that we’re going to have to have job impacts overall,” said Armstrong. (The first layoff came during the conference call, when Armstrong turned to an employee snapping a photo of the meeting: “Put that camera down…you’re fired.”)
Though the company has hinted at a move away from local news in its path to becoming a profitable “community platform,” Armstrong reiterated the company’s commitment to local journalism. “Journalism is the piece holding Patch together,” he said.
“I’m sorry if you’re international—cricket, whatever, I don’t know what I should use—but we need to take Patch to the endzone,” Armstrong said. “We’re committed to the future of Patch, the board is committed to the future of Patch, but we’re going to do it in a very specific way.” If only he could articulate what the future holds.Alexis Sobel Fitts is a senior writer at CJR. Follow her on Twitter at @fittsofalexis. Tags: AOL, hyperlocal, Patch