DNAinfo and Gothamist Are Shut Down After Vote to Unionize (NYT)

DNAinfo and Gothamist Are Shut Down After Vote to Unionize

http://nyti.ms/2it7YAT

For DNAinfo and Gothamist, the staff’s vote to join the Writer’s 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.

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DNAinfo and Gothamist’s home pages. The two organizations combined in the spring, and staff members voted to unionize last week.

Merging DNAinfo and Gothamist was intended to ease some of the financial strain. But the two sites were an odd mix. DNAinfo specialized in street-level reporting on neighborhood issues not covered in other media, including crime, real estate developments and community board meetings. Last year, the staff’s coverage of an East Village explosion was a finalist for a prestigious Deadline Club award. Gothamist brought a puckish attitude to articles that were sometimes original, sometimes based on news published elsewhere.

Ben Fractenberg, who joined DNAinfo in 2010, said that the hope was that as local newspapers around the country foundered, DNAinfo would create “a new business model” for local news. “We were all united on that,” Mr. Fractenberg said. “And that never wavered.”

But the profits never materialized.

Journalism in general has become less profitable as print advertising, which commanded high prices, has crashed and revenues from digital advertising have not replaced it. Local newspapers and sites, which must ask advertisers to market to smaller audiences, have been particularly pressed. The New York Times has also cut back on its local coverage of New York City, closing regional bureaus, for example.

Patch, a network of hyperlocal news sites that started two years before DNAinfo in 2007, is perhaps the biggest bright spot on the local-news landscape. It finally became profitable last year, after cutting more than three quarters of its staff and deciding to duplicate much of its content across more than 1,000 local sites. Patch also changed its advertising policies to sell space more efficiently.

When the DNAinfo and Gothamist New York newsrooms first moved to join the union in the spring, management warned that there might be dire consequences.

DNAinfo’s chief operating officer sent the staff an email wondering if a union might be “the final straw that caused the business to close.” Around the same time, Mr. Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs, wrote bluntly, “As long as it’s my money that’s paying for everything, I intend to be the one making the decisions about the direction of the business.”

In September, Mr. Ricketts, a conservative who supported President Trump in last year’s election, raised the ante with a post on his blog titled “Why I’m Against Unions At Businesses I Create,” in which he argued that “unions promote a corrosive us-against-them dynamic that destroys the esprit de corps businesses need to succeed.”

But reporters at many digital news sites make only a fraction of what staffers made in the heyday of print newspapers. And in joining the Writers Guild of America East, which has organized the staffs at some larger digital organizations, including Vice, the Gizmodo Media Group and The Huffington Post, the DNAinfo and Gothamist staffers hoped for stability and recognition.

After last week’s vote, one DNAinfo reporter, Katie Honan, said, “If this is the future of journalism, it should be a career for people, not a postcollege hobby.”

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November 2, 2017 at 02:12PM