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Tim Armstrong, AOL’s CEO, announced that the rumored layoffs and about-face for Patch, the money-losing hyperlocal company he brought with him to AOL, are true. A rolling series of layoffs will start over the next week or so, with hundreds of the various Patch hyperlocal sites to be closed or “partnered” with local news organizations, with none of the details spelled out.
According to the Columbia Journalism Review’s Alexis Sobel Fitts, he sounded very aggressive:
“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.
So Armstrong throws the Patch leadership under the bus — that he hired and was supporting even a few weeks ago — and talks about lack of leadership?
Armstrong acquired Adap.tv earlier this week for $405 million, and he certainly timed this shift at the woefully awful Patch in the downdraft of that announcement.
I’ve followed the ups and downs of Patch — and hyperlocal news in general — for years (see “Everyblock is yet another proof point that no one understands hyperlocal, if it means anything at all,” “What Happened To The Hype About Hyperlocal?” and “AOL hires chief content officer for troubled Patch — Peter Lauria via Reuters“), and there is no doubt in my mind that hyperlocal has to be social at a foundational level, not just advertising tied to zip codes. In that regard, Patch is simply designed wrong. Someone needs to create a place for local public discourse, not just a place for reporting on local, public discourse.
The real questions in my mind are, When will AOL get rid of Armstrong, make Huffington the CEO, and shut Patch down?