patch11Online news site Patch is pulling up roots in Washington state as part of a larger shakeup at the AOL-owned community news operation. Staffers at Washington Patch were notified Friday morning about the job cuts, with half of the operation losing jobs today and the other half notified that positions would be eliminated October 15th.

About 15 people, including local editors and sales staffers, are losing their jobs. That’s part of a bigger shakeup at the company, one which is resulting in layoffs of about 400 to 500 people. The company had previously employed about 900.

Prior to the cutbacks, which had been anticipated for several days, Patch had operated more than 900 community-oriented news sites. In the Seattle area, those included sites such as Redmond Patch, Edmonds Patch and Kirkland Patch. The company never expanded into the City of Seattle, a hotbed for independent online news sites like MyBallard and The West Seattle Blog.

mercerisland-patchIt’s unclear what AOL plans to do with the assets of Patch in Washington state, and rumors have circulated that it’s been shopping the properties.

As part of the shakeup, Patch associate regional editors Margaret Santjer and Dave Colby lost their jobs. Most of the local editors, who operate the community news sites, are set to be laid off on October 15th.

Former regional editor Mike Lewis left the company in May, and now works at the Seattle non-profit Casey Family Programs.

“It’s a tremendous shame. The folks here worked tremendously hard to connect to the communities and build the sites. It’s unfortunate,” said Lewis, a former columnist at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. (Editor’s note: Lewis worked with GeekWire founders John Cook and Todd Bishop at the P-I).  Lewis noted that some of the sites were growing their audiences and establishing strong roots in the communities that they served. “The business model here, as elsewhere struggled,” he said.

Under the direction of former Google exec Tim Armstrong, Patch has turned into a grand — and some may say failed — experiment in online journalism. The company grew amazingly fast over the past several years, scaling from a few sites to several hundred. That rapid growth, without a business model supporting it, led to several problems at the company.

The layoffs, which have been drawn out over several days, also have caused tensions at the company. That stress was highlighted last week when Armstrong publicly fired a staff member for taking his photo during a company meeting. You can listen to that here:

Armstrong later apologized for that management mishap.

It’s unclear whether other regional Patch organizations took as big of a hit as Washington state, but the company does appear to be shedding several community-oriented sites in other regions as well.

Here’s AOL’s official response on the cuts via All Things D:

“Patch, as previously announced, is taking steps to move to profitability. Patch’s strategy will be to focus resources against core sites and partner in sites that need additional resources. Additionally, there are sites that we will be consolidating or closing.

Patch has become an important brand across many towns in America. The Patch team across the country has served and will continue to serve communities with journalism and technology platforms. Unfortunately, with these changes we are announcing today, we will be reducing a substantial number of Patch positions. The people leaving Patch have played a significant role in making Patch an integral part of the communities it serves — and we thank them for their hard work and passion for Patch.”

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  • Viet Nguyen

    Ugh. The hyperlocal experiment has failed. Thoughts go out to all those losing their jobs.

    • BorninthePAA

      Until this recent news of AOL and layoffs, I had no idea that Patch wasn’t a grassroots, upstart, nearly-volunteer effort. In saying that, I also appreciate the value of a local news source. What’s to stop the Washington Patch journalists from writing under their own organization, or joining another, like the Times? Yes, I know. Paying the journalists. But, I’m just trying to offer some encouragement.

      • Viet Nguyen

        If I had the answer to that question, I’d buy the Washington Post.

  • Hashtag_David

    That’s too bad. I had come to visit Patch as often as I do MyNorthwest. No other site, even the Bellevue Reporter, did town news as well as they do.

  • West Seattle Blog

    No, the hyperlocal experiment has not failed. Corporate attempts to templatize neighborhood news have failed. Again, and again, and again. Not just Patch; it was little-noted that besides Patch’s ongoing contraction, DataSphere and KOMO quietly abandoned their fake “neighborhood sites” some months ago, killing the community-specific Facebook pages, ceasing to use the community-specific Twitter accounts, turning the community “pages” into aggregation of whatever the main newsroom covered that happened to be in that community. Every community should have a strong community-specific, community-based, independent, journalist-run news organization. (We hear so often from people who don’t and who tell us, “I wish xx had something like your site …”) They cannot be run by corporations. If only AOL had listened to those of us who said that four-plus years ago, they could have saved hundreds of millions of dollars, and the good journalists who worked for them might have founded independent sites instead. I hope some will choose to do that now, particularly any of those suburban communities here where P@atch had gotten traction. – Tracy Record, WSB editor/co-publisher

    (P.S. Thanks to GW for mentioning us but don’t forget the FABULOUS Capitol Hill Seattle, where Justin and his team are doing incredible work right now.)

    • Monica Guzman

      “Every community should have a strong community-specific, community-based, independent, journalist-run news organization.” –> Amen.

      • Christopher Budd

        They should but, frankly, not everywhere is West Seattle. I totally get what you’re saying and agree but having grown up in the sticks myself, sometimes things like Patch (corporate and templatized as it is) are as good as you can get. Patch gave these places something they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten. And now a lot of places now are back to no local news at all.

        Of course, I also have to wonder how the message was delivered. Were they fired on the phone? Or did the CEO do the caring thing an announce it on Facebook and Twitter?

  • Brian Soergel

    Patch local editors, as well as Margaret and Mike, were reporters with great instincts who were hampered by clueless – utterly clueless – management. I was interim editor for a YEAR (they saved some money there), making $500 a week and working my ass off to bring Edmonds news to the community while competing against a great indie site, My Edmonds News. When I was finally officially interviewed by a New York type, I was told I didn’t sound enthusiastic enough. ?? Thanks for not hiring me. I wish ex-Patchers all the best.

  • Wendy Wahman

    I’m really sorry to hear this.

  • MDC

    Anybody know what their plans are for the domains?

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