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Feb. 26, 2018, 2:30 p.m.
Business Models

Here are a few details about WNYC’s Gothamist revival (and one big question)

Gothamist is back (yay!), but DNAinfo is not (boo!). Here’s what we’ve learned about the public radio bid to bring the site back.

In some rare good news for local news, WYNC said Friday that it’s acquired and plans to relaunch Gothamist, which was abruptly shut down last fall after a successful union organizing effort with owner Joe Ricketts. The news, greeted with understandable glee by anyone invested in the digital local news ecosystem, has a lot of moving parts, and some of its components are still unknown — particularly the identities of the anonymous donors who helped fund the acquisition, and the size of the overall deal.

Here are a few takeaways, clarifications, and open questions surrounding the move.

— Gothamist is returning, but DNAinfo isn’t. Joe Ricketts’ acquisition of Gothamist last March was seen as an effort to shore up the business operations at DNAinfo, which struggled to turn a profit. Sadly, DNAinfo is staying dead, which is disheartening given that the site’s intense focus on aggressive hyper-local original reporting (Gothamist, in contrast, generally relied heavily on aggregation.) A consolation: WNYC will maintain DNAinfo’s archives, which were taken offline when the site shutdown last fall and have been in limbo since.

— Gothamist will operate separately, at least for now. Talking to The New York Times, Jim Schachter, head of WNYC’s news division, said that, under the station, Gothamist will operate exactly how it used to — though it’s clear that the site will have to make some editorial tweaks to meet WNYC’s guidelines. Gothamist founders Jake Dobkin and Jen Chung, who helped lead the deal, will run the relaunched site, along with an “editorial transition team” of 3–4 former Gothamist writers, as well as 2-3 WNYC reporters, for the initial phases. “The integration team will be cross functional and will help to integrate Gothamist into NYPR,” WNYC president Laura Walker wrote in a memo to WNYC staffers on Friday.

— LAist and DCist are back, too. The two sites will be operated by KPCC in Los Angeles and D.C.’s WAMU, respectively. As with WNYC and Gothamist, WAMU said that it plans to run DCist separately, and will bring on three full-time staffers to run the site, plus freelancers, as Andrew Beaujon reported on Friday. As for LAist, KPCC says that it also plans to run the operation separately, though LAist articles will likely appear on and vice versa, according to KPCC CEO Bill Davis.. To join the consortium, both stations had to pay a fee, which reporting on KPCC’s site “deduced” to beabout $50,000. (Other Gothamist sides, including SFist and Chicagoist aren’t being revivied, at least not with the current lineup of radio stations.)

— Gothamist union representation is still TBD. Ironically, unionization, the very thing that contributed to Gothamist and DNAinfo being shut down, remains unresolved with the new formation, at least at WNYC. In contrast, KPCC’s Davis said that LAist’s current writers will be covered by SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents KPCC news staff.

— Just who are these anonymous donors?Probably the biggest unanswered question in the whole Gothamist revival story is who helped fund it, and why. In a post on Substack on Friday, Felix Salmon called the anonymous donations a kind of “catalytic philanthropy,” because it gave the public radio stations enough up-front capital to make the deal happen. And while there’s some understandable trepidation about Gothamist trading one wealthy benefactor for another, one of the benefits of the new arrangement seems to be that that the donations come with no strings attached.

Salmon writes:

In this case, however, the radio stations could assure the philanthropists that they weren’t going to ask for any money for operations. The donation would go straight to paying Ricketts for his valuable intellectual property, and then the sites could basically support themselves. And because the radio stations would pay Ricketts, the donors could give the money via the radio stations, making their gifts tax-deductible and fully in line with any kind of charitable-foundation guidelines

Photo of New York City by Granding used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Feb. 26, 2018, 2:30 p.m.
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