Gothamist, DNAinfo Shut Down as Billionaire Ricketts Cites Costs

(Bloomberg) -- DNAinfo and Gothamist, which chronicled the daily grind of New York City life, are shutting down in the latest sign of struggle for online media.

The decision to close both sites was announced in a letter posted on their homepages by billionaire Joe Ricketts, their chief executive officer. While he attributed the decision to the costs involved in operating the site, he didn’t mention a vote last week by editorial staffs of both websites to unionize with the Writers Guild of America.

Ricketts, a Republican donor who founded the online brokerage service TD Ameritrade and backed President Donald Trump, started DNAinfo in 2009 to publish neighborhood news and information. Earlier this year, the 76-year-old Ricketts bought Gothamist, which published local news in New York and in other cities through websites such as Chicagoist and LAist.

“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 said in the letter.

New Yorkers know DNAinfo as a destination for granular local news, from a water main break down the block to a cow escaping from a Queens slaughterhouse. Gothamist trafficked in broader fare, with a mix of politics and culture written in a cheeky tone.

The closing of the websites is another sign of how difficult it has become for online publishers to survive at a time when Google and Facebook are taking the lion’s share of online ad dollars. In recent months, publishers including Mic and Fox Sports have fired writers and shifted their focus to creating more online videos, which generate higher ad rates.

Neighborhood news has been especially hard for publishers to figure out. AOL suffered years of losses from its local news division, Patch, before selling a majority stake to Hale Global.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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