BY GLENN FREEMAN
Walnut/Diamond Bar – Just two weeks after an abrupt announcement in mid-January that AOL was partnering with Hale Global to run its troubled Patch.com network of hyper-local community news sites, the joint venture laid off hundreds of staff members. With media reports saying upwards of 80 to 90 percent of the staff was let go, the move has severely impacted each of the 900 local sites.
According to news reports, staff members were notified of their termination via a conference call, wherein Patch’s Chief Operating Officer, Leigh Zarelli Lewis, relayed information on the restructuring.
“Patch is being restructured in connection with the creation of the joint venture with Hale Global,” Lewis said, according to an excerpt of the call printed on Jim Romenesko’s media blog. “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.”
Locally, there are Patch sites for the communities of Diamond Bar-Walnut, Baldwin Park, Monrovia, Glendora, Claremont-La Verne, and Redlands-Loma Linda. A Jan. 30 posting on the Diamond Bar-Walnut site by Editor, Melanie Johnson, says the local staff was among those let go.
“Hi, Diamond Bar-Walnut Patchers! I am posting to let you know that Patch was recently purchased by a company who has decided to do some restructuring. As a result, the local editor positions have been eliminated, including mine,” Johnson posted.
The website is still being updated, but not as frequently and the content appears to be more broad and regional in nature. Former staffers say the sites are being updated from afar, with a small staff now covering all Patch sites within California (which had the most sites within the Patch network, by far). What the future holds is still unclear, but more user-generated content has been mentioned by some.
In the Jan. 15 press release announcing the partnership, AOL and Hale Global said they are “Committed to re-launching Patch as an efficient platform that allows citizens and businesses to create and share locally-themed news and content – not just with those in their own communities, but to the wider world.”
Patch began in 2007 with the help of AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, who eventually encouraged AOL to buy the collection of hyper-local news sites in 2009. Armstrong expressed confidence in Hale Global’s ability to turn the sites around, despite Patch’s financial problems.
“Hale Global has a strong track record of operational excellence and platform experience, and we are looking forward to working closely with them on Patch,” Armstrong said in the press release. AOL plans to maintain a minority stake in Patch.