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August 09, 2013 4:49 PM You’re Fired….Now, Let’s Talk About Layoffs

By Ed Kilgore

AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong may have set a new benchmark for managerial imperiousness today during a staff meeting/press conference to announce plans for downsizing the company’s struggling Patch affiliate that supplies local news content. Here’s the story from Jim Romanesko:

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.”

In Armstrong’s defense, he started up Patch with his own money, and he’s understandably tense about prospects for saving it by eliminating staff positions and unprofitable websites. But firing someone while trying to reassure the help is never a good move.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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