The New York City hyperlocal news websites DNAinfo and Gothamist were shut down Thursday, the chief executive officer for both websites said Thursday.
In a letter posted to dnainfo.com, Joe Ricketts said the sites were not economically successful enough to "support the tremendous effort and expense needed to produce the type of journalism on which the company was founded."
The Writers Guild of America says the New York offices of DNAinfo and Gothamist recently voted to unionize, and that threats were made during that drive to unionize.
"The Guild will be looking at all of our potential areas of recourse and we will aggressively pursue our new members rights. We will meet with management in the near future to address all of these issues," the Writers Guild said in a statement.
DNAinfo was founded in 2009. The company that owns DNAinfo bought Gothamist, which was established in 2003, earlier this year.
"I was in the midst of fielding a tip and updating a story and then everything was shut down," Emma Whitford said.
Whitford said that's how she and her colleagues at Gothamist and DNAinfo found out they were all out of a job. There was first an email from management, followed by Ricketts's message that was posted on both news sites.
"We weren't in this to get fat raises or upend the economic viability of the company," said Whitford, a now-former Gothamist reporter. "We were just in here to have our voices heard."
Readers were just as stunned by the closure as the staffers. "That's absurd," one man said. "I think that the workers should be allowed to unionize."
"There are sites that I seek out, and DNAinfo was one of them," another reader said.
"I just don't understand the logic in that," she added about the shutdown.
Gathering with other staffers in solidarity at a Lower East Side bar Thursday night, reporter Noah Hurowitz said the journalists opted to join Writers Guild of America East to fight for the basics.
"I haven't gotten a raise in two years, my health insurance was terrible, I didn't get overtime," said Hurowitz, who had covered Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York for DNAinfo.
He is among those who see Ricketts's decision to fold as retaliation after management cautioned workers against unionizing.
"I have no regrets. We stood tall, we did what was right," Hurowitz said. "They did what they did — they crushed us, sure, but we stood tall and we die on our feet, not on our knees."
Staffers say the loss of both sites is a loss for local journalism, as fewer organizations devote resources to hyperlocal stories.
"People still have to be informed about these things, and it's frankly a victory — this is only a victory for people who don't want to be exposed to sunlight and who want to hide everything that they're doing," said Dave Colon, who was an associate editor for Gothamist.