Hundreds of editorial employees of hyper-local news outlet Patch are out of a job, just weeks after AOL sold its sites to Hale Global. The employees learned of their termination during a brief conference call on Wednesday, that was obtained by Jim Romenesko, who reports that the layoffs might include as much as two-thirds of Patch's entire staff. Have a listen:
Here's a transcript for those who can't listen:
Hi everyone, it’s [Patch COO] Leigh Zarelli Lewis. Patch is being restructured in connection with the creation of the joint venture with Hale Global. 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.
Patch's move from AOL to Hale was apparently the solution to a promise Tim Armstrong made to AOL's investors: he'd turn a profit from the network of hyperlocal sites by the end of 2013. That didn't happen, as the New York Times notes, so AOL found someone else to take over Patch. AOL still retains a minority stake in the company.
There were few details at the time of the sale on how Hale planned to re-configure Patch, but the layoffs today tell part of the story: most of the former employees came from editorial. They'll join hundreds of other Patch staffers laid off in recent years as the company's financials struggled to keep up with its rapid expansion. Business Insider has a report on what might be in store for what's left of the company:
A source familiar with Hale's plans for Patch says the network will shrink to 250 sites from nearly 1,000. In Connecticut, for example, Patch's staff has been reduced from ~100 to ~5. This source says the 750 or so zombie sites will aggregate regional news and try to partner with local bloggers.
In other words, Hale took a lot of the "local" out of hyperlocal. Given the company's very frequent layoffs over the past few years, the news will hardly be a surprise to many Patch employees. Some of those caught in today's layoffs have already started new hyperlocal ventures in the communities they've been covering, while others are taking some time to say goodbye to their readers. And on both Romenesko's site and a private Patch alumni Facebook group, many others are looking for work.