hump day havoc: patch does mass layoffs

patchfiredCan you still call it AOL Patch?  I am not sure because they mostly sold out to an entity called Hale Global recently as per the Wall Street Journal.

USA Today said on January 15th:

AOL Inc. effectively abandoned its ambitious strategy of reinventing hyper-local news when it agreed Wednesday to sell a majority stake in the Patch website network to technology investment firm Hale Global.

Financial terms weren’t disclosed. The companies anticipate closing the deal in the first quarter.

The deal is touted as a joint venture between AOL and Hale Global, which says it specializes in turning around underperforming businesses…..

Hale Global and AOL say Patch will be relaunched as a place for contributors and businesses to create “locally-themed news and content.” ….”We are committed to bringing users, local businesses, writers and advertisers together into a Patch experience full of innovation and growth,” said Charles Hale, CEO of Hale Global, in a statement.

Well corporate raiders, acquirers, whatever you want to call them never seem to follow through on the warm and fuzzy moments do they?  With them and underperforming assets it is all about business. And the bottom line.

Well as of today all of our local Patch sites are kind of over.   The web pages are up but this morning AOL Patch did mass layoffs.  It is all over social media and the news is slowly trickling to traditional media.  It is “off with their heads” Wednesday.

Romenesko has covered it the best thus far.  He has a recording of “Hello You are Fired”

Part of what was said (courtesy of Romanesko):

Hi everyone, it’s  Leigh Zarelli Lewis. Patch is being restructured in connection with the creation of the joint venture with Hale Global…..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

Romanesko writes:

I’m told that hundreds — two tipsters claim two-thirds of the editorial staff — have been laid off by Patch’s new owner, Hale Global…

“The patch years were years of being aol’s tool and plaything. Killed myself, almost literally. Left with literally nothing. Better off dead.”

“I was a local editor for Patch for 3.5 years, up until about an hour ago. ….We knew it was coming, but the silence from New York over the few months was deafening. They left us in a state of suspended animation. For those of us who killed ourselves working for this company, it was a real slap in the face.”

I have many friends who worked with Patch since it’s inception.  Some were traditional journalists and writers by trade. People like Tom Walsh, who is now the Public Information Officer of Lower Merion Township. Or  former Managing Editor of Main Line Media News, Tom Murray and Sam Strike from the now defunct Suburban and Wayne Times, Tom Sunnergren, Anthony Leone. And more.

Heck, when Patch was in its embryo stage I was a freelancer for photos and occasional articles for mostly Ardmore Patch.

I have been critical of Patch in the past couple of years.  It had gone from being this wonderful hub of hyper-local news to a mish mosh of spelling and grammatical errors with very little emphasis on what was happening in the communities it was covering.  But yet, there were Patch sites that continued to stand out – locally Malvern Patch until Pete Kennedy left, Phoenixville Patch, Tredyffrin-Easttown PatchEast Hampton Patch and Radnor Patch.

If I had to pick my favorite it would have been Radnor Patch, where Sam Strike was editor.  She is a friend and I have always loved her writing and photography skills.

If I had to pick a golden time for a lot of the local Patch sites, it would have been when Tom Murray was a Regional Editor.  A real newspaper guy, he really taught me how to write when I used to contribute to then Main Line Life Newspaper.

But this morning for my remaining friends at Patch like Sam Strike it was “hello, you must be going, you are fired.”

Sam Strike wasn’t the only fine Patch person who got the axe today.  Bob Byrne of Tredyffrin Patch and it looks like West Chester Patch and Malvern Patch and the list goes on. Basically if you go to Patch, click on the editor’s hyper link. It goes to an “oops there is nothing here” page. That is how I am counting up who is gone from our region.

I have been in touch with some of the Patch people I knew today.  Tom Sunnergren who now writes  for places like ESPN.com and hibu (you know those Malvern Life and similar “Life” magazines we get in the mail now once in a while?) and I spoke this afternoon for a few minutes.

Tom said he left Patch  in August 2013 for a new position and when he thought he saw the final handwriting start to appear on the wall. He told me he believes all the Patch editors in our region is gone. He said enjoyed his experience at Patch, they gave it the “college try”.  He remarked towards the end of his tenure there was a period of mixed directives that was hard on editors.

We spoke about Patch being almost a social experiment after a fashion.  He remarked it would serve as a cautionary tale to the next group that tried this hyper-local formula.

Not to armchair quarterback but at first Patch had too many sites and tons of people working for them.  Then they kept cutting people but not consolidating Patch areas to keep up with the layoffs.  First they were right there with your hyper-local news reporting on local issues from local meetings.  Then they were not covering the news but telling you  that you could blog on Patch “for free”.

The Patch sites around here operated under a mushy soft news umbrella after Tom Murray left  the Regional Editor spot for another job.

Sam Strike now former editor of Radnor Patch sent a note out to her e-mail list this afternoon:

Date: Wed, Jan 29, 2014 at 1:23 PM

Subject: It’s been a pleasure

Hi all,

I wanted to let you know that it has been a pleasure working with you all over the years (some many, some few). Today Patch laid off the majority of its staff, myself included.

I’ve been doing local news in Radnor for a decade. And I’ve enjoyed it. But I think it’s time for a new challenge.

I have been and will continue to be pursuing work in the public relations/communications sector. I would appreciate any leads that you may encounter.

My Patch email will be shut down at 5 p.m. today

I was also in touch with Anthony Leone today.  He used to be a Patch editor I worked with at the Haverford-Havertown Patch. Anthony always had an uphill battle while at that Patch and so did every subsequent editor because it wasn’t just the Havertown/Haverford Township Patch. They also tossed in the town I used to live in when I lived in Lower Merion: Haverford.

Haverford, Lower Merion Township should have been attached to Bryn Mawr or Ardmore Patch but only the local editors ever got that.  Anyway, I asked Anthony what he thought and this is what he shared with me:

While it is a shame that this happened to so many of my former Patch colleagues, some of whom I have worked with personally, it is not a surprise. I do wish them the best of luck. One of the wonderful things that I have discovered since I left Patch in July 2012 is the fact that so many former Patchers are still in contact with one another and offer support.

Since I left Patch, I’ve written a lot about it on my blog What Burns My Bacon, but I thought in the beginning that they were filling a true community need, something that the readers really wanted. But over time decisions were made and it started to have a negative impact on Patch and its readers. I just hope someone can take the best parts of Patch, fix the things that were wrong with it and make something that will employ journalists and give readers what they truly desire: Original, local news.

So now what?  What is the future of journalism? Regionally and locally our newspapers have had to keep cutting back while beefing up on things like new technology and an online presence.

Years ago I had the good fortune to become aware of a blogger named Karl Martino who was one of the folks who thought up this amazing blog, a blog community really, called PhillyFuture.org which is now defunct.  One of his topics there was the future of journalism.  I wish I still had those posts he and others wrote. (he still blogs at paradox1x.)

Journalism was so different when many of us were little kids.  Real newspaper people and hard-core editors chasing the story.

Then came the failures.

I remember the first time The Philadelphia Bulletin closed. 1982.  Then the name was bought and it was resurrected for a second life. Then it died again in June 2009. It became deficit omne quod nasciture or everything that is born passes away.

Patch was launched in our area on or about September 10, 2010.  One of their editors wrote at the time:

“Want the facts without bias? A team of trained journalists covering every government meeting, every school board hearing and keeping the community abreast of local events? A brand new online newspaper launching Sept. 10, 2010 in Ardmore.  Patch.com is owned and funded by AOL, supports community journalism on a “hyperlocal” level.  Patch will cover all of the goings on in its three namesake communities, and will be updated multiple times every day with breaking news and information. “

The initial Patch sites in the greater Philadelphia area went “live” at 10:55 a.m. on September 10, 2010.   The Patch editors were ironically all fired by that time today.

Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote an interesting article about the future of journalism on Attytood this past October 16th.

He said in the article titled Like it or not, this is the future of American journalism  :

I think we’re seeing that since actual civic-minded good-for-you news and investigative reporting  — propped up for more than a century by department store ads, classifieds and crossword puzzles — has zero economic value in the digital free market, there’s only one thing that will keep it alive. And it’s not really what those hundreds of journalism reform articles I read over all those years were about — things like reader engagement and crowdsourcing and using social media (although those things matter).

It’s really just about very rich people.

And not just any very rich people, but very rich people with an agenda.

Given the state of politics and craziness that has defined the rise and fall and rise and fall and rise again of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News I am almost surprised he was able to articulate much of this particular piece.

But is he wrong? Sadly, I think not.

Who will be our voices in Chester County now?   We get some coverage on TV if too many people in Philadelphia aren’t being murdered or politicians aren’t causing scandal.  But as far as local news, we don’t have much coverage by the Philadelphia Inquirer (they jettisoned their Chester County bureau a few years ago), and the Daily Local and Main Line Media News are stretched thin.

Will we be our own voices? We have all but run out of our traditional real-time story tellers A/K/A reporters and editors.

Not surprisingly most major media outlets like the New York Times are now starting to report on the Patch editorial massacre today.  They all are saying that neither AOL Patch nor new owner Hale Global would comment on the layoffs.

Interestingly enough according to Fox News a Patch that survived with editor intact apparently is Greenwich Patch.  As in Greenwich, CT. Why? Because Tim Armstrong (AOL) lives there basically. Fox reports that AOL still owns 40% of Patch.

To now former Radnor Patch Editor Sam Strike and Tredyffrin-Easttown and lately Phoenixville Patch Editor Bob Byrne I wanted to say thank you. They were among the last editors standing until today that I really respected.  They are true journalists and are people of integrity.

My friend and former editor  (as well as Patch Regional Editor) Tom Murray said to me today “Very sad day when journalist and friends lose their jobs.”

Please feel free to share your thoughts.

What is the future of media? Journalism?

3 thoughts on “hump day havoc: patch does mass layoffs

  1. Well, some of us are trying. The Times of Chester County and its hyperlocal sites in Unionville, Kennett, Coatesville and Downingtown (with more to come, as we glow slowly and carefully) are trying to do what Patch couldn’t do, create a professional local news site supported by local advertising. Out next hyperlocal sites will be in the Great Valley area (tentatively planned for late 2014) and T/E in 2015.

    We’re far from perfect — or even close to what I want us to be — but we’ve built a solid, loyal audience and continue to work to improve our coverage of local news. We’re not backed by a big company or rich folks, just a couple of experienced, Chester County news people looking to reinvent how local news works.

    We think people are going to need local news, but that traditional print newspapers are probably doomed. Hopefully, after three years (we launched three weeks after Patch — I turned down a chance to be SE Pa. editor there in 2010 because I didn’t see a clear vision for Patch from AOL), we’ve made slow and stead progress toward that goal, and I think, gotten better with time.

    • Mike I did not leave your papers out on purpose – I know Kathy Shea. I just wish you covered more of the county is all – thanks for writing in

  2. I’ll tell you right now I won’t miss the comments sections of the Patch sites. There are some vicious and insane people in this county.

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