New York local news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist, as well as their affiliates around the country including LAist, were abruptly shut down on Thursday afternoon.
CEO Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of brokerage firm TD Ameritrade, laid off 115 journalists and pulled the sites’ archives from the internet.
The move comes less than a week after DNAinfo’s New York office and Gothamist voted to join the Writers Guild of America East, a decision the company said had an impact on Ricketts’ move to shut the enterprise down.
“Businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure,” Ricketts said in a statement posted to the various sites.
“The decision by the editorial team to unionize is simply another competitive obstacle making it harder for the business to be financially successful,” a DNAinfo spokesperson told the New York Times.
Ricketts, a major backer of Republican causes who last fall gave $1 million to a super PAC supporting Donald Trump, founded DNAinfo in 2009 and then acquired Gothamist and related urban sites in March 2017.
The news took the staff of the sites by surprise, with New York-based city editor tweeting that the news was delivered to staff while he was in the bathroom.
— Christopher Robbins (@ChristRobbins) November 2, 2017
Here’s Ricketts’ full statement:
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