The neighborhood news sites DNAinfo, Gothamist and their sister sites shut down without warning on Thursday, just days after some of their staff members announced they had unionized.
The sites now redirect to a letter from billionaire CEO Joe Ricketts, who founded DNAInfo in 2009 and bought New York-focused Gothamist and its other city-specific sister sites earlier this year. He cited financial reasons for the closure.
But 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 needed to produce the type of journalism on which the company was founded. I want to thank our readers for their support and loyalty through the years. And I want to thank our employees for their tireless effort and dedication.
I’m hopeful that in time, someone will crack the code on a business that can support exceptional neighborhood storytelling for I believe telling those stories remains essential.
Ricketts’ decision puts 115 staff members out of work, including those at the New York locations who unionized and those in the other locations ― San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. ― who did not, the New York Times reported.
A spokesperson for DNAinfo told the Times that the unionizing effort was “simply another competitive obstacle making it harder for the business to be financially successful.”
The news appeared to catch employees off guard. Gothamist editor Christopher Robbins tweeted that he discovered the news when he walked out of the bathroom.
The unannounced closure prompted wide backlash from other members of the media on Twitter, with many pointing out that neither writers whose work was published on the sites nor readers can access their articles any longer.
Joe Ricketts -- who just shuttered DNAInfo and Gothamist because "businesses need to be economically successful" -- is worth $2.1 billion. pic.twitter.com/gzl2YURKaL— Alexander Kaufman (@AlexCKaufman) November 2, 2017
Joe Ricketts is 76. He just deleted the work of hundreds of good young journalists, and pissed off all their friends. Good luck maintaining a legacy, Joe!— Charlotte Alter (@CharlotteAlter) November 2, 2017
Gothamist was one of the first sites to cover #AuditTheVote and write about the Russian hacking of the election after Trump won. Now we can't access that article because Joe Ricketts, a Trump backer, shut down the site after the workers voted to unionize. https://t.co/y5afgmxpMD— Andrea Chalupa (@AndreaChalupa) November 2, 2017
The Writers Guild of America East, the union representing Gothamist and DNAinfo staffers, criticized Ricketts as being hostile toward unionizing efforts and suggested it may pursue legal action.
″[I]t is no secret that threats were made to these workers during the organizing drive,” the union said in a statement Thursday. “The Guild will be looking at all of our potential areas of recourse and we will aggressively pursue our new members rights.”
Ricketts’ acquisition of the left-leaning Gothamist sites earlier this year raised some eyebrows. The conservative billionaire, who made his fortune founding the online stock broker TD Ameritrade, donated at least $1 million to President Donald Trump’s campaign last year and has put his money toward several right-wing causes.
After the acquisition, several Gothamist articles criticizing Ricketts’ political activities were wiped from the site. When readers noticed, however, Gothamist co-founders Jake Dobkin and Jen Chung said they acted on their own in deleting them from the site and were not asked by Ricketts to do so.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.