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The future of local news is “civic information,” not “declining legacy systems,” says new report
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April 5, 2018, 11:43 a.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   April 5, 2018

Once-beloved local news site is shut down by billionaire owner after employees try to unionize. Scrappy news site rises again as beloved public radio station acquires and announces plans to relaunch it. Triumphant site launches a Kickstarter and everyone gets pissed and says maybe site should stay dead after all.

So that’s not normally how these stories go, but it’s what seems to be happening in the case of Gothamist, which was acquired by WNYC in February. WNYC didn’t actually pay for the acquisition itself, though; as WNYC president and CEO Laura Walker wrote last month:

Funding for our acquisition of Gothamist was provided by several generous people and institutions, including our station partners, supporter Josh Reznick, and a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. Meanwhile, the Jerome L. Greene Foundation, along with New York Public Radio Trustee Cynthia King Vance, has provided critical funding for the digital transformation of the WNYC newsroom, of which Gothamist will be an integral part. And in the week since we announced the acquisition, we’ve heard from dozens of listeners and donors who offered additional support.

Then Gothamist launched a Kickstarter campaign this week with the goal of raising $100,000 by May 4.

As Nieman Lab reported in February, the plan is for Gothamist to operate independently under WNYC. The site will be run by Jake Dobkin and Jen Chung, Gothamist’s original founders. But, as David Uberti has been reporting in stories for Splinter, it’s been unclear how other former Gothamist staffers, who had unionized alongside DNAinfo staffers, would be involved in the site’s relaunch. Uberti wrote this week:

For now, Gothamist seems to have outlasted a malevolent billionaire. But DNAinfo is gone. The union is effectively dead. A few dozen journalists have been sidelined in the righteous “mission to save local news.” And the bosses who sold Gothamist to a conservative union-buster, tried to shield him from public criticism, joined his fight against the site’s workers, and precipitated its destruction have emerged almost unscathed.

This week, Melissa McEwen, who had been the food and drink editor for Chicagoist, wrote a Medium post entitled “Why Gothamist should stay dead.” From that post:

To say that the Ist publications took advantage of people was an understatement. At the time the journalism world was struggling, these sites made their bucks from underpaying or simply not paying naive or desperate writers. I was firmly in the former category. I was by profession a software developer, and this was my “side hustle.”

I had very little guidance and made a lot of mistakes. But here’s the deal. I was paid $500 a month for publishing 1–3 articles A DAY on weekdays. Some of these articles I wrote, some other writers did. We paid maybe 10% of the writers in my department. Otherwise I would try to reimburse them on expenses (the budget for that was $200 a month). You can dismiss us as foolish, but a lot of people still wanted to write for the site. It was a business model based on taking advantage of people, I just had to learn about it the hard way. I feel much remorse for being part of recruiting writers to write for free and sometimes convincing them that it was worth it…

The business model was clearly to pay as little as possible for content and then rake in money from ads on it.

From this angle, the Gothamist Kickstarter, and WNYC putting out its hand to readers to relaunch the site when WNYC already received money (including from one unidentified source) to acquire it, feels — weird; like, use the money you already have. (This is also the perspective of most of the people on this Reddit thread.)

From another angle, Gothamist is just being scrappy again, even if it’s owned by WNYC now, and we should support it. (Boing Boing headline: “Kickstarting a public radio-backed revival of Gothamist, a beloved site killed by an evil, union-hating Trumpist billionaire.”)

So far, the so-scrappy side seems to be winning. As of this writing on April 5, Gothamist’s Kickstarter campaign had already raised more than $90,000.

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