Several news outlets are reporting that AOL will shut down one-third of its Patch network of hyperlocal news sites and lay off about 300 people today. Newsday says AOL will close about 300 of its 900 sites and TechCrunch says layoff totals could reach 550. It’s unclear how large the Patch workforce is, but the last figure we saw was about 900.
A lot of reasons are being cited for Patch’s failure to get traction, ranging from competition from local newspapers to a crummy content management system. “Patch has gone from being free-wheeling to overly controlling with its local editors and then back and forth between the two,” writes TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm.
Our local Patch is run very well. Susan Petroni, a former daily newspaper reporter, covers the town so efficiently on a shoestring budget that her Patch site regularly scoops the local daily newspaper. However, the site is an unholy mess to look at, with ads and editorial content intermingled with each other seemingly at random. And Petroni’s discipline may not be typical. See the comment titled “A PATCH INTERN’S STORY” on Romenesko for a more cynical view.
Patch has been dragging down AOL earnings since it launched, and CEO Tim Armstrong has pledged to make the network profitable by the end of this year or shut it down. It looks like this is a last-gasp effort to break even.
Update: Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that AOL will replace the head of the Patch divison and close or find partners for 400 of its community websites. The exact number of layoffs is still undetermined, but it appears it will be at the high end of the 300-550 positions that were rumored earlier today.
- Patch Expected to Lay Off 500 Employees Tomorrow
- Some background on Patch
- AOL Will Fire Hundreds Of Patch Editors Today (AOL)
- AOL Said to be Closing or Finding Partners for 400 Patches