New York Times media columnist David Carr wrote a damning obituary for AOL’s local news initiative Patch in today’s paper, hitting CEO Tim Armstrong straight in the heart. “The hunt to own the lucrative local advertising market, Mr. Armstrong’s white whale, is over,” writes Carr, reporting that the company “is finally” — finally! — “winding down Patch.” Even over Armstrong’s screams of protest, Carr continues to drive the stake deeper.
The collection of hyperlocal sites didn’t work out, Carr says plainly, “but Patch did not go quietly — hundreds of people lost their jobs over the last six months — and neither will Mr. Armstrong.” The CEO’s attachment to the business was “sentimental” and, “some would say,” “debilitating … a nightmare.” Those AOL shareholders who said Patch was not a “viable business” have “turned out to be right,” Carr continues, while “the additional time — or was it rope? — that [Armstrong] secured did not change the outcome at Patch.” Ouch.
But it’s the denial that really hurts. Even after Armstrong was publicly lambasted for coldly firing a Patch employee on the spot during a meeting about layoffs in a leaked recording, he won’t jump from the sinking ship and “cannot quite admit that it is over,” insisting (“somewhat hilariously,” Carr says) that Patch remains “an asset with optionality” and, in more business speak, is “moving toward” making money.
An internal memo to Patch employees today, published by Business Insider, said, “We are continuing to talk with potential partners about Patch and there is no change in course or direction from what we have discussed as a team. Patch gets and will get a lot of media coverage, but we will keep you updated as we walk through the partner talks.”
“At the end of the day, could Patch have been run better?” Armstrong pondered with Carr. Instead of letting it hang as a rhetorical question, he added, “We don’t know.” No amount of executive jargon can mask the sound of defeat.