A pioneer of the city blog format

Gothamist.pngNEW YORK, NEW YORK — In an over-saturated New York media market, there are few news sources that can claim even a modest percentage of the city’s attention. Gothamist’s constantly updated coverage of offbeat, interesting, and generally important news stories in New York City lacks the ubiquity of, say, the front page of the New York Post, but it’s getting there. The site’s New York branch gets over 10 million monthly page views; the broader Gothamist network, which includes blogs focused on Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles, draws over 25 million. As if this weren’t enough eyeballs, the network is expanding. Gothamist co-founder Jen Chung says that the network’s New York office plans on increasing its staff from fifteen to twenty-five full-time employees by the end of 2011; she expects to hire two full-time editors for the San Francisco site this March.

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    • Turning a profit as it nears the end of its first decade, Gothamist is a notable new media success story. Its flagship publishes about fifty blog posts a day on New York-related news, culture, and events, and other sites in the network continue to expand coverage. According to co-founder Jake Dobkin, the site began in 2002 with modest ambitions to be a place where fellow New York-based bloggers could discuss their city. “It was just going to be a small group of friends writing about the city for ourselves,” says Dobkin, who adds that the site “took off quickly.” Its transition from a part-time pursuit to a profitable brand was aided by the site’s growing reputation as a local must-read.

      “We were approached by advertisers that wanted to reach a New York audience,” says Dobkin, who explains that the site’s first ad sale was a “small buy” in 2004 by Nike. By 2006, Gothamist had accounts with several other national advertisers and could hire its first full-time employees. Chung says that the site’s editorial philosophy hasn’t changed much from its early, pre-monetized days. “At the end of the day I see Gothamist as a site that’s like the friend of yours that knows what’s happening,” she says. “And that can be from civic issues to social issues to cool restaurants that are opening up. I think now we’re just doing it on a larger scale.”

      What has changed is an added emphasis on original reporting. Dobkin says that the site’s seven daily editors are charged with writing up to ten blog posts a day, and that most include original quotes or statistics. In contrast to the infamous snark of Gawker, Gothamist’s Manhattan-based competitor, Dobkin describes his site’s voice as “upbeat and approachable.” That said, Dobkin says that the site’s most popular posts usually have something to do with controversial news stories “that pit one group against another,” and cites a protracted and much-publicized fight between cyclists and Hasidic Jews over a Brooklyn bike lane as one example.

      Gothamist’s broad yet locally based editorial tack has proven influential in New York. City Room, The New York Times metro section’s blog, was launched in 2007, and brings more traditional newspaper editorial standards to the city blog format. City Room publishes several short, reported hard-news items each day, and acts as a kind of dumping ground for metro news that’s either too ephemeral or too offbeat to justify space in the paper’s print edition. The Times’s use of the city blog format that Gothamist helped pioneer is a point of pride for Dobkin, who says that City Room was originally described to him as a “Gothamist-kller.” But Dobkin points out that while the Times is struggling financially, Gothamist’s profits have grown “over 400 percent” in the last four years, largely because of contracts with major national advertisers. The site also gets significant revenue from franchise fees: right now, there are “-ist” websites in Shanghai, London and Toronto that are not under the New York site’s direct editorial control, but pay an annual fee in order to be included in the Gothamist network.

      Meanwhile, the site has satellites in several American cities, and DCist, LAist, SFist and Chicagoist account for nearly 60 percent of the network’s web traffic. Each of these sites (with the exception of SFist) currently has at least one paid full-time editor; smaller “-ist sites” in Boston, Seattle, and Austin are less frequently-updated and lack a full-time staff. “Editors of those cities know their cities better than Jake [Dobkin] or I are going to,” says Chung of the relationship between the New York branch and the rest of the Gothamist network. “We’ll make broad suggestions like ‘are you covering this story, maybe try this?’ And all the full-time editors share best practices with each other about what kinds of stories to go after.”

      Dobkin largely attributes the network’s financial success to its low overhead. The entire Gothamist editorial operation is run out of a living room-sized office in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, and most of the site’s costs have to do with meeting payroll. “We’re very good at doing more with less,” Dobkin says, adding the site is in “an expansion phase.” With plans to hire up to six more editorial staff by the end of 2011, including an overnight editor (as well as four others for the site’s business operations), Gothamist is set on becoming a permanent, established part of New York’s–make that the world’s–media landscape.

Gothamist Data

Name: Gothamist


City: New York

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Armin Rosen is a former CJR intern.