Patch sees mass layoffs

Patch sees mass layoffs

Michele Ellson
Alameda Patch

On Wednesday, media outlets reported that hundreds of journalists working at Patch news websites had been laid off. A source told media blogger Jim Romenesko that up to 90 percent of journalists working at Patch were laid off.

The sites’ corporate parent, AOL, announced in mid-January that it had sold a majority stake in Patch to turnaround firm Hale Global. AOL chief Tim Armstrong had promised shareholders who had become angry about the $100 million in losses the sites had suffered that Patch would be profitable by the end of 2013.

Local editor Dixie Jordan was among the journalists who were laid off. Another editor charged with overseeing 20 East Bay Patches is now managing the site, she told a local journalist and blogger who posted a piece on the layoffs on the Alameda Patch site.

“I don't know the answers to all of your questions right now but I do know we are going to improve Patch so it is an even better experience for the users,” editor Autumn Johnson wrote in a comment on the piece. She called Patch’s current state “a temporary situation” but didn’t offer details about what is coming next.

A press release AOL issued to announce its partnership with Hale Global said the sites would be re-launched “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.”

An internal memo obtained by Fox Business said the sites would remain open and that much of the original news they supplied would be replaced by content aggregated from other sites, the news organization reported. A source reportedly told Fox that fewer than 100 employees remain at Patch and that a “skeleton crew” of 50 will continue to report news.

Patch launched nearly 1,000 news websites in cities and towns across the country after being purchased by AOL in 2009, offering news to many communities that weren’t getting much of it and competing with homegrown startups in others. But the sites were never able to generate the revenues needed to support the thousands of professional journalists it employed as editors and writers, and Patch went through several rounds of cost-cutting.

Last year Patch laid off 400 workers and stopped actively updating dozens of sites. Armstrong had intimated that Patch would partner with a big, legacy news company to continue operating the sites, but those plans never materialized.

The layoffs follow an announcement by Bay Area News Group, which is part of Digital First Media, that the company will no longer provide free home delivery of the Alameda Journal and four other East Bay weeklies. The papers will be available only as inserts to readers with a paid subscription to the Oakland Tribune or the West County Times.

Across the bay, managers at the San Francisco Chronicle recently announced plans to initiate a social media boot camp for reporters in an effort to halt declining readership. The paper’s circulation plummeted by 50 percent between 2009 and 2012, Mashable reported.