The media today: A loss for local news

One week after journalists at leading local New York news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist voted to unionize, the sites’ owner shut them down. At 5 pm Thursday, as reporters were filing stories and sitting in city courthouses, a post went up on both sites announcing that Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade, was pulling the plug.

“Reaching this decision wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t one I made lightly,” Ricketts wrote. He expressed pride in the impact of the sites’ reporting on “tens of thousands of stories that have informed, impacted, and inspired millions of people.” But he concluded that “DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure.”

ICYMI: Ouch! Here are some headlines editors probably wish they could take back 

Ricketts vocally opposed his newsrooms’ unionization effort, writing on his blog, “unions promote a corrosive us-against-them dynamic that destroys the esprit de corps businesses need to succeed.” His decision to shutter his properties—including sites in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco—was viewed by staffers as retaliation for their vote to join the Writers Guild of America East. “Ricketts built something that a lot of people have tried, and it was successful,” Janon Fisher, a DNAinfo editor, said. “This [decision] was out of spite.”

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Ricketts’s decision not only puts 115 staffers out of work, it leaves a significant gap in local news coverage in several cities. The woeful financial state of journalism is well known, and local outlets delivering news to smaller audiences have been especially hard pressed. As newspapers, including The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, have scaled back their metro coverage, DNAinfo’s journalists filled the void, covering school board meetings and courthouse proceedings.

After the news broke, DNAinfo and Gothamist staff gathered Thursday evening at a bar on the Lower East Side in a sort of Irish wake for their outlets. Those I spoke with expressed plenty of anger at Ricketts, but also concern for the state of local news in the city. “It’s devastating,” DNAinfo reporter Maya Rajamani said. “This wasn’t The New York Times, but for me it was a dream job. What we were doing was so important. It’s a huge loss for New York City.”

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Below, more on Ricketts’s decision and the loss for local news.

  • The challenge of local news: The New York Times’s Andy Newman and John Leland were the first to have a full story up about Ricketts’s decision. Their story includes a look at the state of local urban journalism in New York and around the country.
  • “A dramatic change of fortune”: CNN’s Tom Kludt reports on the frustration of journalists who celebrated their unionization vote one week ago. Kludt reports that DNAinfo and Gothamist staffers will be placed on administrative leave and receive their full salary and benefits for three months.
  • From the archives: Here’s Armin Rosen’s 2011 profile of Gothamist for CJR.
  • Another loss: The Washington Post’s Glenn Dixon reports on the end of an era in Baltimore, where the City Paper is closing after 40 years.

 

Other notable stories

  • Billionaire Trump supporter Robert Mercer is selling his stake in Breitbart News to his daughter. Mercer distanced himself from Steve Bannon and disavowed Milo Yiannopoulos following a BuzzFeed News exposé on on the ties between Breitbart and white supremacists.
  • CNN’s Chloe Melas has a disturbing story about Kevin Spacey’s behavior on the set of Netflix’s House of Cards. Production of the show’s sixth season has been suspended.
  • Politico’s Michael Calderone reports on allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior by Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn.
  • Former NPR top editor Michael Oreskes, who resigned amidst reports of sexual harassment earlier this week, has also resigned from CJR’s Board of Overseers.
  • For CJR, Julie Schwietert Collazo writes about layoffs at Puerto Rican newspapers in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
  • CNN’s Brian Stelter examines the impact of reports that the US government may sue to stop the AT&T-Time Warner merger.
  • Josh Dawsey is leaving Politico to join The Washington Post’s White House team.

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.