Too much of last week’s Patch news focused on CEO Tim Armstrong.
Sure, it was a memorably punk moment, one of those historic instants (recall that other AOL-related one when then-Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin awkwardlyembraced AOL founder Steve Case? oh so 1999) when things just seem to change. As Patch itself was about to be cut in half — the news of that dribbling out over a week, filling the post-Bezos news-about-news cycle — Armstrong began to unravel, much like the Patch he has enthusiastically worked to build. He rambled, blaming Patch’s woes on “leadership,” a train of people he of course had appointed.
You can listen to Armstrong’s public, on-the-spot firing of Patch’s creative director. On Larry Mantle’s KPCC show last week on the topic of Patch and hyperlocal, a caller said she wasn’t surprised by Armstrong’s outburst. Her experience, and that of many of us, was that many digital media workplaces are volcanos of emotion. Armstrong’s humbling may give us a picture into tech-led media change itself at the moment, but our immediate question is: What does Patch tell us about the future of local news, about continued reliance on advertising, and about the value of technology?
Let’s see what sense we can make out of the move to close about 150-200 sitesand pursue “partnerships” for about 150-200 others. AOL says it plans to keep open 400-500 sites, or about half of those around today. None of the surviving or suspended sites have yet been publicly named.
For starters, let’s acknowledge what’s clear here: Patch, as conceived, is in part a failure. Its army of national hyperlocal, arrayed across 20 states, is in retreat. Itmay be a strategic retreat. Just as likely, it’s the beginning of the end. Figure its life support now runs another 12-18 months.