It’s fair to say last Friday wasn’t AOL CEO Tim Armstrong’s best day. He was holding a conference call to tell Patch.com employees that nearly half of the company’s neighborhood news sites might be shut down. On the call, Armstrong conceded that it would be “tough” for at least a third of Patch’s 900 sites to turn a profit., then said the company was going to either close those sites or seek print media partners for 300 to 400 of them.
“Partnerships are one piece of it,” said Armstrong, quoted in the New York Post.
During the call, which was taking place from AOL’s New York headquarters, Patch Creative Director Abel Lenz reportedly tried grab Armstrong’s picture using a smartphone.
“Abel, put that camera down. You’re fired,” Armstrong said, according to TechCrunch (which is also owned by AOL). Armstrong is said to have paused about five seconds before continuing as though nothing had happened. Later, he explained the firing, saying, “The reason I fired Abel is I don’t want anyone taking pictures of this meeting.”
Armstrong compared the call to a sports team’s locker room meeting, adding that he could not allow people “giving the game plan away,” according to Business Insider’s account of the call.
Lenz may not have been Armstrong’s first firing of the day. During the call he reportedly had harsh words for Patch.com President Steve Kalin, who was apparently dismissed earlier.
On his Twitter account, Lenz (@lenzabel) refused comment. His profile still lists his position at Patch, as does his LinkedIn page. Newspapers, however, report that callers to AOL HQ asking for Lenz are told no one with that name works there.
Armstrong, meanwhile, reportedly has troubles of his own, with AOL’s board pressuring him to bring Patch.com to profitability before the end of 2013.
Update: Armstrong has now apologized for firing Lenz publicly.