Owner Joe Ricketts shuttered unprofitable local news sites DNAInfo and Gothamist yesterday. Observers link this closure to a vote last week by New York employees to unionize.
This is an example of the disruption of the local media ecosystem. Technology allowed sites like DNA and Gothamist to exist in the first place, but local news has proven resistant to sufficient monetization to create profitability in most cases.
The loss of local news coverage is a serious issue in communities across the country, and the closure of these sites show that even the largest markets like New York and Chicago are not immune.
The closure of these sites sent waves of anguish rolling across Twitter, vastly disproportionate to the size of the sites or their national importance. There’s something off about this, and Lyman Stone wrote in a tweetstorm:
Sidenote: how many tears will be shed for, according to NYT, <300 jobs [115 jobs]? How did you respond to the Carrier plant in Indiana? I’ll be sad to see these sites gone, and the archive wiping seems not just vindictive but weird from a profit standpoint. But if you think this is some sort of hammer blow to democracy or a Big Evil Conspiracy…
NOW YOU KNOW HOW THE RUST BELT FEELS
“Gosh they didn’t even keep on a housekeeping staff in case they want to reopen the plant down the road.”
“Man, so vindictive. We were fired without warning when we tried to unionize a company that was losing money for years.”
“We didn’t get any warning, we couldn’t prepare for the next step in our career, they cut more than was ‘strictly necessary.'”
All fair complaints. All quite possible true. But let’s all measure our reactions here. How would you respond to a 300 person factory [being closed]? “It’s just technological competition; this kind of smokestack industry isn’t sustainable anymore.” Hello, local journalism, my old friend.
NYT ran a piece on a small business closing within *minutes* of the announcement. I am urging twitter to perhaps take a step back and use this as a moment to do some introspection about how they treat other industries.
Stone is exactly right. The thing that struck me about Carrier was not just that there was so little concern about people losing their jobs, but that commentators gave an impression they didn’t want them to be saved, lest it generate any positive press for Trump.
Given that the media industry has been subjected to many of the same forces ripping apart so many others, one would think its practitioners would be looking to make common cause across-industries, but that’s not the case.
The other irony is that most cities never had a DNAinfo or an “-ist” site to begin with. They had their local paper, now owned by some national chain and largely gutted. And their local TV and radio stations, which the FCC is now promoting the gutting of, with no pushback from many of the people crying about DNA. The bigger cities are now getting brought down closer to the same level everyone else is already at, and they don’t like much at all. All of a sudden, the loss of local news is a crisis.
I think the loss of sites like DNA is a problem. I hope somebody is able to fill the void and that the archives are reinstated, as reports suggest they will be. But the gap in local coverage is far greater than just New York, Chicago, and a handful of other major markets where DNA operated.
There are some bright spots. Vox Media runs some verticals, Curbed and Eater, that seem to be doing well in major local markets. Or at least the company itself seems viable. This isn’t full spectrum local coverage, but it is covering some niches. Maybe this sort of thing could be expanded to other verticals. In the meantime, disruption of the media space continues.