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?

barking out loud

swimming dog, East Hampton, NY

swimming dog, East Hampton, NY

Dog rescue is an emotional business.  Want to see people get up in arms quickly? Talk about animal rescue and shelters.  So that being said, some are not going to like that I am posting about the Chester County SPCA.

The Chester County SPCA has a fabulous history.  One of my most favorite rescue dogs ever, an English Springer Spaniel named Winston came home from there.  But like every other animal rescue place time in memoriam, apparently the Chester County SPCA is having some fairly serious issues.

The Chester County SPCA has exploded all over the news in the past few days or so much like the Delaware County SPCA did a few years ago. I am not surprised because very early on in the summer I heard some really upsetting things about the Chester County SPCA.  Is it true they are NOT scanning animals for micro chipping and are in a lot of cases just shipping animals down to Philadelphia?  I find that personally distressing because why are we micro chipping and licensing pets if no one is really going to try to use these things to identify our animals if god forbid they get lost?

The Inquirer broke news that Chester County SPCA volunteers said the shelter had turned into a “kill factory”. If it had been anyone other than Amy Worden and Mari Schaeffer (whose article first appeared) breaking this news I might be very skeptical.  But these women know their stuff. So is it true?

And the stories leaking out are of volunteers and shelter employees being punished and/or shown the door for questioning things? And even board members are talking?

I personally am very concerned because if the Chester County SPCA doesn’t quit trying to muzzle people and deal with its issues they will have real problems which may cause them to have serious, serious issues in the long run. I will say I realize and accept that not every dog and cat can be saved. However, that being said, if they are taking the money to pay for the saving, then the Chester County SPCA needs to open up and be honest.  I figure because they take public money they might be subject to right to know requests?

Sign me worried and disappointed and see below for what is in the media and so on.

Like it or not, something is going on because TOO many media sources are writing. And a blog I never saw before has cropped up – Justice For Chester County Animals:

We tried to tell them -parts 2, 3, & 4

Theresa Duffy, former volunteer, wrote this on July 28, when she was still a core dog walking volunteer and a member of the Dogs on Tour team.

Board of Directors

The Chester County SPCA 1212 Phoenixville Pike West Chester, PA 19380

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am currently a volunteer at CCSPCA. Until recently, I was a regular face at the shelter, spending as much time as possible there walking dogs and having the pleasure of getting to know their individual personalities.

I am writing to you to express my concern for the well being of the animals that reside in this shelter. I feel this is a matter of urgency and requires your attention. My observations are detailed as follows:

The absence of an operations manager is apparent. I hope you are actively and aggressively seeking to fill this position with a qualified individual. There is no evidence of that in the job openings section of the CCSPCA website or a search conducted on the internet.

It is clear the shelter is under-staffed in the kennel specifically. On several occasions, fellow volunteers and I have cleaned up the dog pens and ensured water was replenished. I never minded doing it, but it speaks to the need for more attention to detail. Potential adopters may turn away due to offensive odor. Also, I’m sure you wouldn’t want someone conclude that the animals were not given fresh water at all times.

Regarding the health of certain animals, I have observed that some animals’ conditions do not appear to improve over time and then they are suddenly missing. Veterinary attention is a basic need for the health of these animals. I have heard rumblings that veterinary care was being reduced as a cost cutting measure for shelter. I understand the shelter is not a sanctuary, but euthanizing a dog when an antibiotic could have spared its life, is reprehensible.

The shelter is losing long standing solid contributing volunteers for 2 reasons. First, they are being fired because they care too much. The policy states that a volunteer cannot question euthanasia decisions. Volunteers give of our time because we care, asking us to ignore that is impossible. Enforcing shelter policy related to volunteers specifically should require the use of some compassion. The situation with Leslie Celia could have been handled with much more respect and understanding rather than inflaming an already emotionally charged situation. Second, they are leaving out of disgust specifically due to Deb Murray. As volunteer coordinator I believe she’s actually going out of her way to deter volunteers from participating. She removes Facebook posts that she deems inappropriate when in actuality, that’s the only place we can share information and learn from each other. She is rarely present at the shelter and when she is, doesn’t participate in walking dogs. Therefore, she doesn’t know their personalities, or needs. How can this individual be in charge of volunteers?

I am also wondering why the dogs park days have been eliminated. The importance of these informal outings shouldn’t be diminished. These animals are given so little time in the fresh air, that a good long walk, in normal surroundings benefits their mental well being. Additionally, some critical learning’s about the dogs behaviors help to inform potential adopters of any special needs. Please consider reinstating this as soon as possible.

Michele Amendola’s absence is noticeable. Not one dog, that I am aware of, has gone to rescue since she began medical leave. Have you discontinued trying to move these animals and spare their lives? Also, what happened to the satellite adoption centers for the cats? Didn’t that program move over 40 animals to families?

I am a volunteer specifically for the CCSPCA for a variety of reasons. The Mission and Vision contribute to it. If these values have changed, please let me know.

 

Also look at these media reports:

Philly Dawg: Volunteers: Chester County SPCA Has Become a “Kill Factory”

By Amy Woden Philly.com

Animal lovers are speaking out about treatment of pets at the Chester County SPCA, including dogs put down for minor health problems and a majority of cats getting a one-way ticket to the euthanasia room.

Volunteers say the shelter in the state’s richest county has become a “kill factory.”

The shelter is taking in hundreds if not thousands of more animals now than it did two years ago before taking the contract to handle animal control for Delaware County when the Delaware County SPCA became a “no kill” shelter and no longer accepted strays.

Exactly how many additional animals are being admitted we don’t know because the SPCA will not release its intake or “outcome” statistics, despite requests from reporters and the fact it is performing a tax-payer funded service for a neighboring county.

The new influx of animals has come as the shelter is plagued by management troubles, ineffective board leadership and conflicting philosophies about euthanasia, according an article by my colleague Mari Schaefer in Monday’s Inquirer.

Euthanasia numbers on rise at Chesco animal shelter

Mari A. Schaefer, Inquirer Staff Writer

Last updated: Monday, August 12, 2013, 1:08 AM

It is a regional hub for taking in stray dogs and cats, but the Chester County SPCA shelter has become a “kill factory,” say SPCA volunteers, a former board member, and ex-staff members.

They blame ineffective board leadership, unfilled senior management positions, and a clash of ideologies for a significant rise in euthanasia numbers.

Though shelter management does not dispute that euthanasia numbers are rising, it says it is battling the realities of dealing with a tremendous volume of unwanted dogs and cats, many of whom are not adoptable.

The shelter takes in about 5,000 animals a year, according to board president Conrad Muhly, who said the critics are not representative of those who have worked and volunteered at the shelter

 

Pottstown Mercury: Animal advocates concerned about Chesco SPCA euthanasia rate

 By Vince Sullivan vsullivan@21st-centurymedia.com

Posted: Monday, 08/19/13 01:11 pm

When Dave Schlott picked up a stray dog in Chester, Delaware County, last Monday, he was enamored of its personality.

Found on a porch, the dog was frail, but not starved. A homeowner had been feeding it, and it seemed friendly. It also showed signs of physical abuse.

Schlott is filling in as the city’s animal control officer for a few weeks after having retired from that position last year. The reason he gave for retiring was the county’s then-new contract with the Chester County SPCA to take in all of Delaware County’s stray animals.

 Schlott had been in the business for many years with contracts for 15 Delaware County towns and he didn’t want to have to make multiple trips a day to the West Chester area facility.
The reason he gave for not taking this particular dog, which has been named Gretchen, is that he is concerned with reports from former volunteers and employees in Chester County that the SPCA’s euthanasia rates have skyrocketed since it started taking in Delaware County’s strays.

“They seem to be overwhelmed by the number of animals they’re getting in,” Schlott said. “I was determined to save at least this dog.”….A group of current and former workers at the Chester County SPCA have banded together to try and change what they deem as unsatisfactory policies and practices regarding the euthanization of animals….The volunteers and staff members say that the influx of animals from Delco has overwhelmed the Chester County SPCA.

“Every staff member said we can’t handle this,” said Kaity Dempsey, who worked at the shelter for seven years. She was fired from her position as rescue coordinator nine months ago.

“They just said we’ll take your money,” said Jen McCreary, a former volunteer who fosters animals. She stopped volunteering in May because of her issues with the organization’s leadership.

Rich Britton, spokesperson for the Chester County SPCA, declined to talk about euthanasia numbers Friday. He instead highlighted the issue of animal overpopulation…One of the chief complaints from the former workers is the lack of qualified people in leadership positions. The shelter is currently searching for an executive director, which is traditionally a person who oversees the day-to-day operations of a facility. That search has been ongoing for several months after a handful of short-lived interim managers.

“They’ve never had any leadership,” said a former employee who asked not to be named because they aren’t permitted to speak about the shelter’s operations. “It’s been nine months since the last operations manager. But the executive director is the big piece that’s missing. That’s your fundraising.”

“They need to hire day-to-day management,” said a current volunteer who asked not to be named because they didn’t want to be barred from the shelter

Patch: Chester County SPCA’s Message About Pets Surprises Some

The SPCA has an urgent plea for pet owners who can no longer afford to care for pets.

Posted by  Bob Byrne   (Editor) , August 11, 2013 at 11:41 AM
The Chester County SPCA has a message for pet owners who may no longer be able to care for their pets: Please try to find a new home for your pet before bringing it to the SPCA.