The AOL Way: Layoffs, lies about 'quality content'

Leaked memo from CEO Tim Armstrong reveals plan to lay off 900 workers, general delusion

According to a memo from AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong that was leaked to Business Insider, nearly 900 workers are being laid off Thursday in the wake of the company's acquisition of online tabloid The Huffington Post. That's about 20 percent of the company's staff. About 200 of the layoffs will come from AOL Media and tech groups in the U.S. The bulk of the layoffs will come from AOL India's back office and support units. (Also see: AOL-HuffPost: Marriage made in content farm/tabloid hell) The memo itself is quite a piece of work and serves as an excellent example of self-serving CEO B.S. Remember, this is the company that recently cranked up the requirements for monthly stories by 67 percent, mandating that full-time content creators bang out five to 10 articles/videos per day. That's not a content farm, that's a content plantation. Further, any AOL content is supposed to be based on three considerations: whether it can get page views, whether it can generate sufficient revenue, and whether it can be produced quickly. Yet in Thursday's internal memo, Armstrong repeatedly refers to the company's quest for "quality," as if saying it is the same as doing it. It's like McDonald's going on and on about the quality of its french fries and chicken nuggets. Who could take that seriously? Some snippets from the memo (courtesy of Nicholas Carlson at Business Insider, who continually snags some good scoops): "Our strategy remains clear: create high quality content experiences for consumers, at scale." With Arianna's leadership and vision, (Huffington Post Media Group) will be fueled by high-quality editorial content... Sure, just like the Huffington Post, which today features articles such as "Lindsay Lohan Wears Mini Dress To Court," "Olivia Bikini Pics" and "Jimmy Fallon's 10 Best Late-Night Culinary Moments." Pulitzer board on line 2! We will ... become an editorial-led media organization that allows us to create higher quality content in real time. Except for the part of AOL that continues to take advantage of older subscribers by continuing to charge them for dial-up access they don't need. As part of this enhanced focus on quality journalism, we will be making new editorial hires in the HPMG as well as continuing to expand and grow Patch. Get the picture? It's all about quality. Sure it is. If you're one of the AOL workers about to get the ax today, here are some reassuring words from "Former AOLer on to Better Things (Trust Me)" in a comment left on Carlson's article: "I left AOL a couple months ago for a real media company. I have to say, that looking back, I should have left that dysfunctional place years sooner. Since TA came on board, the place eats away one's soul like cancer -- making one question one's self worth. There is a phenomenal life outside of AOL -- trust me -- so it's OK if you are asked to leave today. If you remain, you'd be a FOOL if you don't immediately start looking for a way to get out ASAP since that place is imploding." Quality, indeed.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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