NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/CBS News) — The digital local news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist shut down Thursday.
The announcement came a week after the editorial staff voted to unionize with the Writers Guild of America East.
All the content on the sites was replaced by a letter issued by chief executive officer Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade who owned the sites. In the letter, Ricketts said reaching the decision to discontinue the online publications “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,” Ricketts wrote. “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.”
Ricketts noted that DNAinfo and Gothamist deliver news and information to half a million email boxes, have over 2 million fans on social channels, and have more than 15 million visits to their sites by more than 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,” he wrote.
But Ricketts went on to write that when it came to business matters, DNAinfo just was not sufficiently successful.
“But DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure,” Ricketts wrote. “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.”
DNAinfo reported local, neighborhood-specific news in New York and Chicago. Gothamist –which was acquired by DNAinfo from founders Jen Chung and Jake Dobkin in March – also had sister sites in Chicago; Los Angeles; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.
At the time of the announcement that DNAinfo had acquired Gothamist, Chung and Dobkin wrote that Gothamist would become the “official blog for DNAInfo New York” and Chicagoist would be the same for DNAInfo Chicago. As to the other three cities, Chung and Dobkin wrote in March that “DNAinfo has been interested in expanding more cities, and these sites are the perfect way to help launch that next phase.”
But now, 115 journalists are out of work with the decision to close the sites, according to the New York Times.
DNAinfo and Gothamist reporters took to Twitter to lament not just the loss of their jobs, but the disappearance of years of published work.
“We were the best in the game and I can’t put into words what a loss this is to NYC news,” Brooklyn reporter Noah Hurowitz wrote. “I have bled, sweat, cried, put myself in harm’s way for this job, and now the last two years of my live have been erased.”
He also leveled the charge that the shutdown was “direct retaliation” for the staff voting to unionize.
Ricketts’ letter made no mention of the unionization campaign, which he had fought. The New York Times reports that when the workers tried to organize last spring, he told them, “As long as it’s my money that’s paying for everything, I intend to be the one making the decisions about the direction of the business.”
The Writers Guild of America East issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” by the shutdown. “The New York offices of DNAinfo and Gothamist recently voted to unionize and it is no secret that threats were made to these workers during the organizing drive,” the union said. It pledged to “aggressively pursue our new members rights.”