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Gothamist & DNAInfo shut down!

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Billionaire Joe Ricketts made good on his threat to shut down the local news sites if the staff unionized. This message is now all that’s left if you go to the sites:

November 2, 2017

Dear DNAinfo and Gothamist Readers:

Today, I’ve made the difficult decision to discontinue publishing DNAinfo and Gothamist. Reaching this decision wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t one I made lightly.

I started DNAinfo in 2009 at a time when few people were investing in media companies. But I believed an opportunity existed to build a successful company that would report unbiased neighborhood news and information. These were stories that weren’t getting told, and because I believe people care deeply about the things that happen where they live and work, I thought we could build a large and loyal audience that advertisers would want to reach.

A lot of what I believed would happen did, but not all of it. Today, DNAinfo and Gothamist deliver news and information each day to over half a million people’s email inboxes; we have over 2 million fans across our social channels; and each month, we have over 15 million visits to our sites by over 9 million people. But more important than large numbers of visits and fans, we’ve reported tens of thousands of stories that have informed, impacted, and inspired millions of people. And in the process, I believe we’ve left the world a better place.

But DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure. And while we made important progress toward building DNAinfo into a successful business, in the end, that progress hasn’t been sufficient to support the tremendous effort and expense needed to produce the type of journalism on which the company was founded. I want to thank our readers for their support and loyalty through the years. And I want to thank our employees for their tireless effort and dedication.

I’m hopeful that in time, someone will crack the code on a business that can support exceptional neighborhood storytelling for I believe telling those stories remains essential.

Sincerely,

Joe Ricketts
Chief Executive Officer

This also means the end of all the “ist” sites including Chicagoist, and the local editions of DNAInfo, like DNAInfo Chicago

The NY Times had an article up almost simultaneously with the end of the sites at 5pm, and they write:

For DNAinfo and Gothamist, the staff’s vote to join the Writer’s Guild of America East was just part of the decision to close the company. A spokesperson for DNAinfo said in a statement, “The decision by the editorial team to unionize is simply another competitive obstacle making it harder for the business to be financially successful.”
The decision puts 115 journalists out of work, both at the New York operations that unionized, and at those in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington that did not. They are getting three months of paid “administrative leave” at their full salaries, plus four weeks of severance, DNAinfo said.

CNN reported on the scene at the newsroom when staff got the notice:

“It was literally like the daily flow of the newsroom came to a screeching halt,” said Scott Heins, a photojournalist at Gothamist. “It was just an absolutely normal day at the office and then someone said ‘oh my god the email’ and then everyone checked their work email. Some of my colleagues burst into tears really quickly, others shouted. It was immediate shock when we got the email.”

We will especially miss Gothamist who we have a long relationship with! I read Gothamist before I started BrooklynVegan, and wrote weekly concert previews for Gothamist for a while after I started BV. They were always in our “blog roll” and still a regular site to check to this day. They often linked to us. We often linked to them.

It seemed unfortunate when Gothamist recently sold to Ricketts, mostly because now a Republican billionaire could do whatever he wanted with the left-leaning Gothamist that much of NYC loved, and the worst case scenario has come true. DNAInfo was always also a great source of local news. All articles on both sites currently redirect to the above letter.

Gothamist was founded in NYC in 2003 by publisher Jake Dobkin and editor Jen Chung. LAist, DCist, Chicagoist, and SFist would go on to open in the US under the umbrella of the Gothamist brand as well. The company was sold to DNAInfo in March of 2017. NY Times reports that newsroom workers voted formally to join a union, The Writers Guild of America East, on October 26, with 25 of 27 voting in favor of joining. The shut down notice came just a week later.

Splinter reported in July that after selling, Jake Dobkins tried to dissuade staff from unionizing. They report:

According to reporters at DNAinfo-Gothamist who spoke off the record for fear of retribution, Dobkin has spoken to reporters trying to dissuade them from unionizing, even insinuating that Joe Ricketts would shut down the company if it unionized.

Dobkin declined to comment for this story. Shortly after he declined, we received an email on his behalf from his PR person—Allan Mayer, the co-CEO of 42West and one of the most powerful PR men on the West Coast. (The benefit of having a billionaire owner, I guess.) Mayer sent along, as comment, two letters that Joe Ricketts had sent on the topic: one, from May 19, to New York mayor Bill de Blasio, who had asked him to recognize the union; and another that was sent to DNA-Gothamist employees on April 19, shortly after they asked for union recognition. In both, Ricketts paints himself as a job creator who has subsidized DNAinfo for years even as it failed to make a profit.

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