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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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