February 05, 2014

Patch Cutbacks Will Curtail Its Local News Reporting

By Rick Murphy

Just two weeks after the new majority owner of Patch vowed to keep all remaining employees on staff, the hammer fell.

Wednesday hundreds were let go by Hale Global, including Taylor Vecsey, the popular editor of the East Hampton Patch. Brendan O'Reily, the Southampton editor, left Patch after an initial round of cuts by AOL Patch in August. He wrote Thursday on his Facebook page that all but four Patch editors on Long Island were fired on January 28 – there were about 24 sites at last count.

Last August Patch announced as many as 500 people would be cut and that AOL, the parent company was looking for strategic partners, but none of the industry experts predicted AOL would dump the company altogether.

Hale Global, a holding company that according to the New York Times specializes in turning around financially troubled entities, purchased a controlling interest from Patch two weeks ago.

Wednesday, in a terse robo-call to employees PATCH CEO Leigh Zarelli Lewis said, according to one blogger, "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," The Times reported.

Patch's vision of being "hyper-local" has suffered markedly since the first round of cuts in August. Coverage of local school and news has given way to canned press releases and amateur bloggers who often have their own agendas.

The local Patch online publications, Westhampton/Hampton Bays Southampton, East Hampton and Riverhead, have taken to sharing stories not only with each other but also from out of the area, and even in some cases, out of the region.

Vecsey acknowledged on Facebook that she would no longer be with Patch moving forward: "And a new chapter begins . . ." she posted on January 29. Several bloggers lamented her loss and called for an advertising boycott on her former website. She declined to be interviewed for this article.

The Patch sale is yet another bitter pill to swallow for AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, who began Patch and was its biggest supporter, even as AOL struggled to absorb the losses. Industry sources say AOL lost almost $300 million before finally pulling the plug. Armstrong once promised Patch would deliver "hyper local news reporting by Pulitzer Prize winners." Instead, Patch hired one editor, usually from a local newspaper, for each site.

In 2011 AOL acquired the Huffington Post and named Arianna Huffington Editor in Chief of all AOL media outlets. She wanted to give the beleaguered Patch editors additional help, but Armstrong – and stockholders — quickly soured on the idea, a stinging rebuke to Huffington.

By August, when the first round of cutbacks were announced, local editors like Vecsey gamely carried on the Patch mission statement, doing yeoman's work, virtually alone. Soon however, editors began to disappear from the mastheads, and more and more stories were shared by several and sometimes numerous Patch sites. On one notable recent Sunday, there wasn't a single bit of East Hampton-centric news on the local website, only articles from as far away as Centereach and Valley Stream.

After the latest setbacks, some insiders predicted Patch will likely cease to be a local news site and instead, pander to would be advertisers, allowing them to submit pieces in the guise of articles.

Hamptons Online and Plum TV were other media outlets that recently abandoned the vision of offering local East End news.

  1. print email
    February 04, 2014 | 04:04 PM

    To clarify, I was not part of the August cuts at Patch. As I wrote on Facebook, I left Patch of my own accord for another opportunity. The cuts came after I gave my notice.

    Brendan O'Reilly
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