DNAinfo: The End of a Local News Era

Last week, billionaire Joe Ricketts announced that he was shutting down the media conglomerate DNAinfo-Gothamist, which he founded in 2009 (DNAinfo bought Gothamist last year). DNAinfo did local reporting in New York and Chicago, covering neighbourhood news that ranged in topics from real estate to crime. Gothamist ran local news sites in eight cities and had more culture and arts coverage than DNAinfo. Both DNAinfo and Gothamist were essential in the local news market, tackling on-the-street reporting that many large news sources, such as the Chicago Tribune and New York Times, have cut back on or stopped covering all together.

DNAinfo was integral in covering crime and police brutality in Chicago. For example, last week DNAinfo was reporting on the finding of discrimination in the police hiring process that neither the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun Times have reported on, to date. DNAinfo also covered aldermanic races in great detail. Considering the large effect an alderman can have in a neighbourhood, Chicagoans followed these stories closely. They also reported on the niche, quirky incidences of neighbourhoods with headlines such as “Cat-Killing Raccoons Move Into Vacant House, Terrorize Neighbors”.

The shuttering of DNAinfo and Gothamist came a week after the 27 employees in the New York DNAinfo-Gothamist office voted to unionize, 25-2. In a letter to DNAinfo-Gothamist’s readers, CEO Ricketts announced that the closing of the news company was due to DNAinfo’s inability to be profitable. While it is true that Ricketts was losing money every month DNAinfo was in operation, Gothamist was profitable and the merger of the two companies was intended to relieve some of the financial strain on DNAinfo.

Despite DNAinfo’s consumption of Rickett’s funds, Rickett willing and enthusiastically invested in DNAinfo for 8 years. Even in his parting letter, he proudly stated the statistics of the news source: 9 million people visited the websites every month. He strongly asserted that the stories told on DNAinfo and Gothamist “informed, impacted, and inspired millions of people” and that “those stories remain essential.”

Thus, it seems that the shuttering of the local news sites was a direct reaction to their employees’ decision to join the Writer’s Guild of America, East. As many journalists lamented, unions are essential to digital reporters being able to advance in their workplace and avoid exploitation. The sad end of DNAinfo-Gothamist is an example of a large billionaire quieting the voices of many – both the reporters and the people on which they were reporting – because employees were convening to advocate for their fair treatment.

Many of the stories being told by DNA were not being reported anywhere else, but they were stories that everyday Chicagoans cared about and wanted to read about. In my own pieces on Chicago, I have cited DNAinfo articles over a dozen times. There is no current source in Chicago that will be able to fill the void of DNAinfo and Gothamist – this is a staggering loss to journalism in Chicago. Yet, there is still some hope for local news: sites like Patch have found a way to make this hyperlocal reporting profitable.

Edited by Benjamin Aloi