AOL CEO Tim Armstrong issued an awkward apology in a memo to his staff after firing an employee for taking a photo of him during a tension-filled conference call last week.
On Friday, Armstrong fired Abel Lenz, a creative director for AOL's Patch local-news business, in front of other co-workers and 1,000 employees listening in on a conference call to discuss changes at the unit, including layoffs and site closings.
In a memo to employees on Tuesday, obtained by Bloomberg News, Armstrong wrote, "I am writing you to acknowledge the mistake I made last Friday during the Patch all-hands meeting when I publicly fired Abel Lenz. I am the CEO and leader of the organization, and I take that responsibility seriously."
Armstrong called last week's meeting to discuss cutbacks at Patch, a network of hyper-local news sites owned by AOL. Armstrong can be heard saying during the meeting, "Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you're fired. Out!" He then paused before continuing the meeting.
In the memo, Armstrong wrote that this wasn't first time the staffer had "recorded" a confidential meeting. "As you know, I am a firm believer in open meetings, open Q&A and this level of transparency requires trust across AOL," Armstrong said in the memo. "Internal meetings of a confidential nature should not be filmed or recorded so that our employees can feel free to discuss all topics openly. Abel had been told previously not to record a confidential meeting, and he repeated that behavior on Friday, which drove my actions."
AOL did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Lenz could not be reached for comment. The memo did not mention Lenz' status at the company.
An audio recording of the public firing leaked and was posted on media blogger Jim Romenesko's website.
Lenz tweeted on Friday, "No comment. (at Old Town Bar)" with a photo of the bar.
AOL bought Patch in 2009 when it covered five towns in the Northeast. It has since expanded to covering over 1,000 communities, according to Patch.com. But the service has never made a profit and the latest plans call for closing or finding partners for hundreds of the sites that have no prospect of covering costs.