Last week, the staff of Gothamist and DNAinfo voted to join a union. Today, both sites were shut down.
For DNAinfo and Gothamist, the staff’s vote to join the Writers 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.
Leftist media is already trying to paint this as the case of a billionaire Trump-supporter who got mad that his publications unionized so he became vindictive and fired everyone. Conservative media will say, “see, unions don’t work.” I agree with the latter sentiment, but that’s not the real reason the publications were shuttered. They, just as many news sites (including this one), are struggling to cope with the reality that profits in journalism are rare.
Perhaps more specifically, REAL journalism is hard to make profitable. The faux-news publications of the world have a tendency to thrive because they’re willing to embrace two things publications with integrity do not: click bait and spammy ads. This is particularly problematic in conservative media because there are so few good publications out there. I’m not going to name names, but after thoroughly exploring conservative media for the last few years with a hard focus on the medium for the last year and a half, I can tell you that 80%+ of conservative news sites out there are nothing more than click magnets loaded with obnoxious, spammy ads and exaggerated headlines designed to draw in clicks, particularly from social media.
These sites often claim that just about everything is “breaking” even if it’s a few days old. They’ll take stories from real publications and rewrite them without adding any real value. If anything, they tarnish the original stories by overplaying the importance of the news with headlines that include click-bait hooks like, “_______ just did something that will make Chuck Schumer cry” or “Trump just ______ – this changes EVERYTHING”.
As for liberal media, it’s no better. Just different. How can sites like Gothamist compete with Buzzfeed and other members of the faux-news cesspool of new-age publications that have the resources they need to deliver real stories but are content with delivering garbage? The answer: They can’t.
There’s a measure of hope, and it’s not just on the conservative side. Axios, which is widely panned by conservative media, is actually a bright spot in the direction of liberal media. They keep it short most of the time. They let readers know the facts, tell them why it’s important, and often what to expect next. Ideologically I do not align with the publication, but the method in which they deliver the news is refreshing.
As for conservative media, we intend to be the bright spot representing the new wave of strong right-leaning voices. Our affiliation with The New Americana gives us a measure of hope that we won’t end up like Gothamist and DNAinfo through the GoFundMe campaign we’ve been running with occasional success. It keeps the bills paid for now which is all we really want to happen.
For journalism with integrity to survive in a click-bait world, we need to stay focused on quality. There’s a future for what sites like ours are delivering. We just need to keep our ethics above the fray and continue working hard to deliver a better version of the news.
Here’s the letter from Joe Ricketts to the readers of DNAinfo and Gothamist:
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.
Chief Executive Officer