DNAinfo and Gothamist Shuttered Suddenly by Ricketts Following Vote to Unionize

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The delete button has hit two well-known and established local news providers centered in New York City.

Gone at 5 p.m. Thursday were nine-year-old DNAinfo, with its expert and rooted coverage of all five boroughs of New York City, plus a newer site in Chicago, and a sister operation, 15-year-old Gothamist, which produced a city-that-never-sleeps narrative of New York under Brooklyn-born co-founder and publisher Jake Dobkin and had sites in three other cities.

The sites’ archives, with their wealth of neighborhood reporting and analysis, were restored to the Web over the weekend after going dark late Thursday afternoon.

The announcement of the shutdowns was made by CEO and founder Joe Ricketts, the semi-retired scion of the family that also owns the Chicago Cubs and its Wrigley Field. Ricketts, who made his fortune by building out and taking public the discount-stock broker TD Ameritrade, said:

“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.”

He then added this stark refrain that’s the story of a troubling number of other local news providers, in New York City in particular:

“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.”

New York Press Club President Steve Scott, meanwhile, called the closings a “gut punch” for NYC journalism: “The journalists at DNAInfo and Gothamist told good stories. They told important stories. They won multiple New York Press Club awards for their work. Sadly, those stories may now go untold. Our city will be poorer for that. The loss of good journalism is a loss for our democracy. “

The shutdown came a week after the staff at DNAinfo New York voted to be unionized under Writers Guild of America East.  A DNAinfo spokesperson told the Times of the possible connection: “The decision by the editorial team to unionize is simply another competitive obstacle making it harder for the business to be financially successful.”

Last February, a round of budget cutting at DNAinfo brought the departure of five veteran and high-profile editors and reporters at the New York site and two editorial staffers and a columnist in Chicago.

DNAinfo had an active Facebook page, with more than 139,000 “likes.” But was not able to transform inbound traffic from the giant social platform — or from Google search, either — into enough advertising dollars on its own sites, a predicament that bedevils many other local news publishers, regardless of the quality of their editorial coverage.

Ironically, Ricketts started DNAinfo in New York City in large part to fill the gap in community news created by the decline in that kind of high-cost coverage by legacy publishers like the New York Times, the New York Daily News and Newsday, whose parent company of the time, the Los Angeles-based Times Mirror media conglomerate — today’s newspaper-only Tribune Publishing or tronc — closed the Long Island daily’s free-standing New York City paper in 1995 after burning through $100 million of investment.

On the neighborhood level, Liena Zagare folded her Corner Media Group of eight sites in Brooklyn into one — Bklyner — last January. Corner Media included not only the six sites that Zagare launched, beginning in 2012, but also two founded by Brooklynite Ned Berke, Sheepshead Bites and Bensonhurst Bean.

Amid the closure of DNAinfo and Gothamist in New York City and the consolidation of Corner Media Group in Brooklyn, the  family-owned Community News Group continues to publish its 21 community and specialty print newspapers and 16 online community and specialty publications, like GayCityNews, in all the boroughs except Staten Island, as well as put on five citywide events.

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) has written “The New News” column for Street Fight since 2011. He is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.