Gothamist and DNAinfo have been shut down. Statement here: pic.twitter.com/53SHJxzpYY— Kim Bhasin (@KimBhasin) November 2, 2017
Staff at two of New York City’s leading digital local news sites voted to unionize. A week after the voting, the websites were shut down.
Owner of the sites DNAinfo and Gothamist, Joe Ricketts, who is a billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade, owner of the Chicago Cubs and a Trump donor, announced the decision of shutting down by posting a message on the sites. The move left some 115 journalists, salespeople, developers and other employees out of work in several cities across the United States.
The workers will reportedly receive three months of pay for “administrative leave.”
“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,” Ricketts wrote on the website.
Ricketts has been openly critical of unionization. He also wrote a blog explaining why he is against unions.
“I believe unions promote a corrosive us-against-them dynamic that destroys the esprit de corps businesses need to succeed. And that corrosive dynamic makes no sense in my mind where an entrepreneur is staking his capital on a business that is providing jobs and promoting innovation,” he wrote in the blog.
Ricketts had also reportedly threatened staff to shut down completely if they choose to unionize. And by shuttering the sites, he made that threat a reality.
“The decision by the editorial team to unionize is simply another competitive obstacle making it harder for the business to be financially successful,” a spokesperson for DNAinfo told The New York Times.
The union that the staff voted to join, the Writers Guild of America East, said, “It is no secret that threats were made to these workers during the organizing drive. The guild will be looking at all of our potential areas of recourse and we will aggressively pursue our new members’ rights.”
Employees of the sites shared the heartbreaking moment when the news was broken to them.
“It was literally like the daily flow of the newsroom came to a screeching halt. It was just an absolutely normal day at the office and then someone said, ‘Oh my god, the email’ and then everyone checked their work email. Some of my colleagues burst into tears really quickly, others shouted. It was immediate shock when we got the email,” said Scott Heins, a photojournalist at Gothamist.
Rachel Holliday Smith, a reporter for DNAinfo, said, “I’ve been getting a lot of messages of support from readers thanking me for my coverage, which is heartbreaking because I truly don't know now who will provide thorough, on-the-ground reporting in large swaths of the city, as we did.”
“There are so many people whose stories were told by DNAinfo and Gothamist. Those voices have been snuffed out. I say this often but it's worth repeating: Support local journalism in any way you can,” added Smith.
Journalists also feared that a lot of their work will no longer be available online and some stories that were exclusively reported by the sites will also no longer exist.
Ricketts claims the sites were shut down because of economic losses. However, later in his own statement, he mentioned the site consistently garnered 9 million unique visitors per month.
Infuriated by what just happened w/ DNAinfo & Gothamist. They unionized so the asshole billionaire who owned the company shut them down.— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) November 2, 2017
Owned by Trump supporter Joe Ricketts. The employees unionized and he shut them down over it. Shame on him. https://t.co/AelXVqQBov— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) November 2, 2017
We churned out stories and burned ourselves out for not much money. But holy shit it was fun. And we did great stuff. And now it's gone.— James Griffiths (@jgriffiths) November 3, 2017
If only Joe Ricketts could have scraped together the money to keep Gothamist and DNAinfo up long enough for writers to save their clips. pic.twitter.com/XUx3h6dJn4— Madison M. K. (@4evrmalone) November 2, 2017
Gothamist was one of the first sites to cover #AuditTheVote and write about the Russian hacking of the election after Trump won. Now we can't access that article because Joe Ricketts, a Trump backer, shut down the site after the workers voted to unionize. https://t.co/y5afgmxpMD— Andrea Chalupa (@AndreaChalupa) November 2, 2017
Shout out to the hero who updated Joe Ricketts' Wikipedia entry pic.twitter.com/jigX4O4PpS— Jon Campbell (@j0ncampbell) November 2, 2017
Hey Joe Ricketts, don't pretend this isn't union busting.— Summer Brennan (@summerbrennan) November 2, 2017