Patch staffers will be laid off and sites closed over next 7 days as Tim Armstrong takes charge

Patch employees listened in on this morning’s conference call expecting to hear that hundreds are losing their jobs today. But AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong told the listeners that the layoffs — he called them “impacts” — and site closings would happen over next 7 days. (“Putting off the inevitable layoffs one week isn’t going to motivate any of the reporters/editors to work any harder,” one Patcher writes Romenesko.)

A Patch higher-up was bizarrely fired by Armstrong this morning — just three minutes into the 9 a.m. ET call — after the employee pulled out a camera in the New York meeting room where the conference call originated. (There are multiple reports that it was creative director Abel Lenz who got the boot. “I have nothing to share,” he tells me.)

Here’s one tipster’s account:

“Abel, put that camera down. You’re fired. Out,” Armstrong said. After a pause of about five seconds, he then continued the call as though nothing had happened.

Then after about five more minutes of talking about whatever, he threw in “and the reason I fired Abel before was I don’t want anyone taking pictures of this meeting.” He invoked some kind of comparison to a sports team’s locker room.

But he seriously fired someone live on a conference call with the entire company … a call that informed us that no one would be laid off today but that instead the layoffs (sorry, “impacts”) would happen at different junctures next week depending on the success of finding “partners” for moribund Patch sites.

Armstrong told employees that he’s now in charge of Patch.

“Something at Patch has been missing and missing for some time and that’s leadership – leadership with a capital L,” he said.

Armstrong said his plan was to focus on the 500 most important towns. (There are nearly 1,000 Patch sites now.) Four-hundred towns will be partnered with other media companies or closed.

Patch, he added, is going to become a fast-moving company and a fast-moving partnertship company.

“Twenty million people love Patch,” he said.

“To his credit,” writes another tipster who listened in on the call, “Armstrong took full responsibility for Patch sliding downhill.”

A Patch editor’s take on this morning’s call:

I now feel somewhat optimistic about Patch’s future for the first time in over a year. Tim Armstrong was spot-on with the observation that Patch needed “capital-L leadership,” and I have no doubt he can provide it. His no-BS, transparent approach is exactly what this company needs. Many of the sites that will be cut should probably have been sold or closed down over a year ago, rather than weakening the brand by filling them up with generic, sponsored and cookie-cutter content. I say this as the founding editor of a site I loved, that will probably close down—and I say it as a Patch employee that will probably lose her job in the next week.

Patch will probably emerge from this round of layoffs a whole lot thinner, but with a whole lot more focus. Whether or not it’s too late, or what the future of journalism is in the new Patch, I don’t know.

Another founding local editor’s view:

This downsizing will not work to save Patch. At its peak, Patch had more than 2,000 employees, while drawing about the same traffic as, which is produced with about 30 employees. Offloading the 300-400 lowest-performing sites may help with overhead in the short term, but traffic will take a significant hit. Lower traffic will result in lower revenue, and so the “impacts” will continue.

ALSO… A former Patch person who was “in the know” shares this information: “[Patches in] CA, WA, FL, GA, NC and SC were bleeding blood with profits in those areas at -165%. [Yes, that’s minus] Georgia and California were the worst with costs of over $5,000,000 a year and sales in each market at less than $750,000. The managers in these markets celebrated $150 sales each day while paying the rep $200 a day to sell these deals. Sales reps sell on an average of $2780 a week and earn $100k a year with benefits.”

* Don’t miss the comments from ex-Patchers on Thursday’s post (