What The Shut Down of Gothamist And DNAinfo Means For Journalism And Workers’ Rights
It cannot be erased that the Gothamist and DNAinfo shut-down was an intentional, retributive attempt to thwart socialist empowerment of the people and reinforce capitalist exploitation.
On Nov. 2, users attempting to access news websites Gothamist and DNAinfo, were met with this shut down note, including employees who had no advance notice of the shutdown.
The ownership of the websites pointed to persistent profit loss as the primary, if not only, motivating factor. The notice itself by current DNAinfo and Gothamist-network platforms CEO, Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of brokerage firm TD Ameritrade, stated a business interest ostensibly driving the shut-down, saying:
“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…”
However, although never turning a profit while in operation, DNAinfo, for example, was maintained for years since its founding in 2009. And Gothamist was estimated to generate about $110,000 in monthly revenue. So despite whatever profit or loss, the websites remained in operation and were only shut down 6 days after a National Board of Labor Relations majority vote requiring the ownership to bargain with the workers and their union.
Because in reality, while Ricketts and the notice point to business they conceal what the true interest actually is: union-busting.
In the months prior to the website shut-down, DNAinfo and Gothamist-network workers, including their journalist teams, were negotiating and discussing unionization. In April 2017, they signed the cards to unionize.
After the shut-down, the Writer’s Guild of America East, the association the journalists unionized under, came forward in a statement that the workers were threatened during the negotiations and organizing saying, “It is no secret that threats were made to these workers during the organizing drive.”
While an earlier investigation by Splinter News in July 2017 revealed that Gothamist co-founder Jake Dobkin is alleged through off-record statements to have implied a website shut-down if unionization was continually pursued.
Instead after Gothamist was acquired by Ricketts, articles about him began disappearing from the website. Dobkin has since stated that the articles were intentionally deleted in a decision made by him and Gothamist co-founder, Jen Chung. A statement from Ricketts was then obtained through Dobkin’s representatives in the same Splinter News reporting regarding the request to recognize the workers’ union. In a letter to employees from April 2017, Ricketts is quoted saying,
“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… We’re either going to make this business successful together or we won’t. And, frankly, I’m not interested in a company with an “us” versus “them” dynamic.”
Later, in a post to his personal blog in September 2017, Ricketts doubled down on unions stating, “unions promote a corrosive us-against-them dynamic that destroys the esprit de corps businesses need to succeed. And that corrosive dynamic makes no sense in my mind.” A DNAinfo spokesperson then confirmed this view in a statement saying, “The decision by the editorial team to unionize is simply another competitive obstacle.”
Ricketts thus paints a picture of once being at least outwardly supportive of local journalism through his media acquisitions, until the workers became a threat to the billionaire’s unchecked power. Then, they had to be stopped.
And this is a troubling trend for journalism when journalist and media platforms are being bought out by billionaires left and right. Ricketts is only one of the most recent in a string of billionaires acquiring media or news platforms. Gothamist itself was only acquired in March 2017, just one month before the unionization was finalized.
Related: CORPORATIONS WILL NOT SAVE US
And with these acquisitions, similar stories have in fact broken out regarding billionaire ownership, influence, and power in journalism. For example, the Las Vegas Review Journal came into ownership of Sheldon Adelson, another billionaire and the CEO of Las Vegas Sands Casino, less than two years ago. And questions to journalistic independence came to light quickly.
Adelson may have compelled the newspaper to cover the presiding judge in a lawsuit against his casino, even before his acquisition of the newspaper was completed. After the sale, a Politico investigation outlined further questions to journalistic independence, citing for example a review process for articles about Adelson, a columnist resigning under claims later confirmed by an editor that he was prevented from writing about Adelson, and firing an editor known for her critiques of Adelson’s influence.
And right now there is a parallel developing story on outside corporate influence and backlash in journalism as well. The LA Times is currently under a movie screening and media blackout in advance of the important commercial holiday season by Disney due to their coverage of Disney Anaheim properties and tax negotiations with local government.
Undoubtedly this shut-down is a loss for Chicago, New York City, Washington DC, and other cities historically served by Gothamist-family websites as powerful and reliable local news sources. But in addition to this loss of great journalism, it cannot be ignored that the DNAinfo and Gothamist shut-down and removal of journalists’ works, albeit temporary, was also a direct response to a movement of the workers.
It cannot be ignored that this is symptomatic of larger structures disempowering workers. It cannot be ignored that large corporate entities and billionaires will stop at nothing to protect their own interests under this insidious, exploitative, profit-driven capitalist system.
So deeply insidious, that those in power would go to any lengths, including workers who empower themselves losing their jobs without notice, firing those who dissent, and denying access to those who question, all to keep their wealth and power to themselves. It cannot be erased that the Gothamist and DNAinfo shut-down was an intentional, retributive attempt to thwart socialist empowerment of the people and reinforce capitalist exploitation. To erase this would be to contribute to the silencing of their cause and perpetuate the very exploitation that workers are constantly fighting to dismantle.
Every single dollar matters to us—especially now when media is under constant threat. Your support is essential and your generosity is why Wear Your Voice keeps going! You are a part of the resistance that is needed—uplifting Black and brown feminists through your pledges is the direct community support that allows us to make more space for marginalized voices. For as little as $1 every month you can be a part of this journey with us. This platform is our way of making necessary and positive change, and together we can keep growing.