The Big Patch Lay-Off: Four Years On

On the morning of January 29, 2014, Hale Global laid of hundreds of Patch editors in a bid to staunch the company’s hemorrhaging cash flow and bring to run-rate profitability. I was one of those unfortunates who got the axe that day.¬†It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since that day, but I thought it was as good a time as any to reflect on where I’ve been since then.

That morning, most of us in Georgia were waking up from a late night, as the state had been walloped by the Snowmageddon/Snowpocalypse/Snow-what-have-you and we were scrambling to keep people informed about what was going on. Roads were closed, trees fell like dominoes, and countless motorists were literally stranded on the highway and had to check in to hotels for the night. Even local sports heroes were not immune to the chaos; Atlanta Braves legend Chipper Jones had to hop on his ATV to rescue fellow Brave Freddie Freeman, an act that spawned one of the more memorable bobbleheads in recent years.

In this maelstrom of adrenaline, confusion, and satisfaction (as we had done a damn good job that night), the Georgia team was decimated. Only two editors were kept on to manage every single site in the state. I had expected something to happen – after all, Hale had bought Patch from AOL just two weeks prior and had a reputation for rescuing floundering companies and selling them once they became profitable – I just didn’t expect it to be so sudden, or so soon. I felt numb after I got off the robotic conference call which informed me my services were no longer required. What was I going to do? Is my career negatively affected by being associated with Patch?

Thankfully, Hale didn’t just cast us adrift without a lifeboat – there was the standard severance, benefits, and accrued vacation time that many laid off employees might be familiar with, but there was also complimentary career counseling and advice from¬†Lee Hecht Harrison. I attended a few of the virtual conference calls and lessons, but in a pattern I’ve noticed far too often in my life, I didn’t take full advantage of the situation to get a killer resume and interview tips.

I drifted, more or less, for several months, including a two-day gig as an editor for the Rome News Tribune. I absolutely could have done the job, but the horrific commute and the late hours necessary to be an actual newsroom editor meant I was driving home at 1 a.m. with a 90 minute commute. It wasn’t a workable situation. Fortunately, Hale Global realized they’d cut too deep in January and brought some people back to get the sites back to the high quality they’d been accustomed to during the AOL days.

I was re-hired in August of 2014.

The new Patch was, obviously, different from the old Patch. It wasn’t as tight-knit; it couldn’t be, as the editorial team was scattered across states. My direct boss was now in Virginia, and we had editors in Maryland and South Carolina in our team. I missed the camaraderie, but I didn’t miss not having a job, so I dug in and assumed responsibility for a series of sites in the metro Atlanta area.

The decentralization and need to do more with less meant it wasn’t as feasible to be in the community as it had been. You could watch city council meetings from home instead of going in person. I’m a homebody, and this change was a welcome one for me, though it probably shouldn’t have been.

For a long time, I’ve been struggling with depression. Depression saps the life and energy out of you, and the joy, too. It either made me lazy or complemented my innate laziness, and it showed in my work. Words were misspelled, articles went unwritten, and I struggled to get the readership that my bosses and Hale demanded of all Patch editors. My colleagues were regularly meeting or exceeding the goals, but it was very hard for me to put forward that same effort. I wondered then, and wonder now, if I was doing the best I could or was using any and all excuses to rationalize my performance.

I lasted a year and a half at the new Patch before I was let go. “Let go” means “fired for poor performance.” They had a point. I had gotten slack with work and burned out with the tedious parts of the job and had stopped doing them. This, in hindsight, is obviously unacceptable and reason enough to get rid of someone. I had been skating by, but the ice finally cracked on Jan. 12, 2016.

In essence, I’ve been out of professional writing for two years now. It stinks. I wish I hadn’t screwed up at Patch. I’ve worked odd jobs since then – I’ve been a cashier, a freelance writer and video editor, and I’m currently doing social media work and blogging for an insurance agency – but I really want to get back into writing full time. I’m hoping putting some of my old Patch work on this site and continuing to write about newsworthy things will keep my fingers moving and my name in the sights of HR people and hiring managers. I need to show them I’m doing more than wallowing, right?

I loved my time at Patch. It taught me how to be a journalist, how to wait until you have all the facts, how to be ready to drop everything at the drop of a hat and cover breaking news. I met wonderful people there, many of whom I still talk to today. I learned skills I’d never dreamed I’d learn, like SEO and iMovie. I even got to be on the radio once.

However, I took it for granted. I think I considered it an extended homework assignment that I got paid for. I didn’t give the job the attention a job deserves and was appropriately let go because of it. That, too, is a lesson I learned from Patch, a lesson I hope not to have to learn again but one I still struggle with on a daily basis.

But I’m still here. I’m still writing and I’m still fighting. Come hell or high water, I’m going to get back in the business somehow and be a better worker for them and a better person for myself. The last two years in particular have been rough, but I’m not ready to give up. I just have to try a lot harder than I have.

I worry, though. I’ve said “I have to try harder” a lot over the years. Sometimes I do, sometimes it falls through. That discipline, that endurance, that strength is something I’d never needed because I could use my natural talents to get by. But now, life is different. The real world needs more from me than natural talent. I have to step up.

I hope this will be the start of that. I have to make this be the start of that.