After sudden death, local public radio stations are bringing Gothamist, DCist and LAist back to life

February 23, 2018
Category: Tech & Tools

WNYC, WAMU and KPCC announced Friday that they’ve acquired Gothamist, DCist and LAist, the online sites which were closed abruptly last year. The acquisition by two anonymous donors includes the site’s archives (which briefly disappeared) and the platform itself, according to WAMU’s Ally Schweitzer.  

From Schewitzer’s story:

“This was an opportunity that when we learned about it, it seemed like such a natural fit,” said Andi McDaniel, WAMU’s chief content officer. “The kind of community and neighborhood-level reporting that DCist does, and its beloved status locally, just aligned naturally with what our mission is.”

Josie Huang reports for KPCC that two donors, who are remaining anonymous, bought the sites for “an undisclosed amount.”

Last November, DNAinfo and Gothamist’s owner, billionaire Joe Ricketts, closed the sites in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., after the New York newsroom voted to unionize.

Local newspapers and alt-weeklies have seen a decade or so of layoffs and shutdowns, but local news isn’t dead, Dylan Smith, editor and publisher of Tucsonsentinel.com, wrote last year.

Like the withering of AOL's Patch before it, Ricketts' various sites ran out of gas not because local news isn't a solid business, but because they're not truly local.

Smith is the chairman of the board of directors of Local Independent Online News Publishers, which has seen its membership grow to include sites in 41 states as more people launch their own local news sites.

Smith’s call to the journalists out of work after the closures was to start their own sites, and in Chicago, a few have. Robert Feder reported in February that three former DNAinfo Chicago journalists were launching Block Club Chicago. Jen Sabella told Feder this:

“Honestly, I’m sick of hearing about how local news is dead or dying. People want it, and we proved that with DNAinfo. What we didn’t do was give readers a chance to support us. I’m so excited to try this again, and maybe I’m totally bonkers, but I think if you listen to your audience and provide reliable news that is relevant to their lives (and that you can’t find 1,000 other places), people will support it.”

Today’s news is similar, in many ways, to St. Louis Public Radio’s merger with the St. Louis Beacon, the online nonprofit news site where I worked for five years. It’s different, however, because the Beacon came with staff already in place.

I asked my former editor at the Beacon, Margie Freivogel, what she thought. Freivogel retired from St. Louis Public Radio in 2015.  

Public radio stations are in the right position to step up and fill in the gaps in local news, she said in an email.

“To do this, it's important to reach people in many ways, and online is one of the most important. Much of the daily coverage on air is devoted to national and international news — and people want that. So to do local news in depth, it's important to make good use of online options.”

It is a little bit similar to the Beacon merger, said Poynter’s Rick Edmonds. But there’s a lot that we still don’t know.

“Not only is it unclear how much they paid, it’s not clear to me that they paid anything,” he said.

WAMU plans to hire three people to run DCist, according to Schweitzer’s story. WNYC and KPCC don’t mention hires in their press releases.

“What it really says is they bought the platform and the archives,” Edmonds said, “and by implication, they’re hoping that this pretty large audience remembers DNAinfo fondly and will at least give it a look and maybe stay.”

On Friday afternoon, the Writers Guild of America, East sent the following statement on the news:

The Writers Guild of America, East has continued to work with the journalists from Gothamist and DNAinfo who voted overwhelmingly to bargain collectively with us last year—people whose thorough, hard-hitting local journalism has been sorely missed since its owners and officers shuttered the companies.  As work resumes under the auspices of WNYC, WAMU and KPCC, it is our hope that the Gothamist and DNAinfo employees who made the site essential are all able to resume their work.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Tucson. It has been corrected.  We apologize for the error.