April 3, 2018; NiemanLab
The latest chapter of the Gothamist saga opened Tuesday as the news site, owned by New York Public Radio, launched a Kickstarter campaign with the with the goal of raising $100,000.
Ruth McCambridge gave the rundown of Gothamist’s closure for NPQ last fall. The hyperlocal news site, along with sister sites LAist, DCist, Chicagoist, Shanghaiist, and SFist, were acquired in 2017 by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. At the time, Ricketts also operated DNAInfo.com, another NYC-based local news page. In October 2017, DNAInfo/Gothamist writers joined the Writers Guild of America East; in response, Ricketts closed both DNAInfo and the –ist sites a week later, taking down all of the sites’ content and eliminating 115 editorial jobs. The billionaire wrote a somewhat tone-deaf post on his blog, stating that that unions “exert efforts that tend to destroy the Free Enterprise system” and “promote a corrosive us-against-them dynamic that destroys the esprit de corps businesses need to succeed.”
The circumstances surrounding Gothamist’s closure created a clear narrative—a kind of David and Goliath saga. So, in February, some readers celebrated when Gothamist and related properties in L.A. and D.C. were purchased by New York’s public radio station and partner stations. The purchase was funded through anonymous donations. Jen Chung and Jake Dobkin, Gothamist’s founders, were recruited to manage the new Gothamist, along with several of the site’s previous editors, and as of Tuesday seven former Gothamist staffers have been rehired.
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The new version of the site will begin coverage in the spring, and, despite its scrappy resurrection story, it is now facing faced some outspoken backlash from staffers (most of whom had not been notified of the new Gothamist) and readers alike. Melissa McEwan, Gothamist’s former food and drink editor, wrote a Medium post this week claiming that the site had largely exploited staffers under founders Chung and Dobkin and that they’d been as opposed to staffers unionizing as Ricketts. Questions surrounding the anonymous donors have been raised, along with questions about how Gothamist will fare under WYNC’s “listeners like you” type of funding.
The crowdfunding platform itself also raises questions: The Kickstarter states that the goal of $100,000 will “help revive the website and bring back our popular newsletter,” but doesn’t mention any plans of hiring former staffers, raising questions about how much the new Gothamist will end up comprising…well, the old Gothamist.
As of this writing, the campaign has been successful; on Thursday night, the campaign had beaten its original $100,000 goal by nearly $1,000.
David Uberti writes for Splinter that the new Kickstarter campaign is “a step toward reviving a fixture of local New York journalism…it also raises the question of why a media company which was sold to a billionaire last year and is now owned by a deep-pocketed public radio station is turning to a crowdfunding platform geared primarily toward independent creators.” But perhaps we should remember that journalists understand the power of an archetypal story, and some observers may find this one kind of familiar.—Lauren Karch