Local news site DCist was shut down late Nov. 2 after billionaire CEO Joe Ricketts — owner of DNAinfo and Gothamist, DCist’s parent company — announced a decision to discontinue publishing both news organizations.

The decision follows an Oct. 26 vote by Gothamist reporters and editors to unionize following Ricketts’ purchase of the news site through DNAinfo in April. Ricketts initially refused to recognize the union, the Writers Guild of America, East, when he made the purchase, but the National Labor Relations Board voted Oct. 27 to legally recognize the labor union, requiring Ricketts and DNAinfo management to negotiate with the union. A week later, the entire news organization was shut down.

In Washington, D.C., local leaders and media observers condemned the decision, with Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Council of D.C. tweeting support for DCist. The news comes almost a month since another local news organization, Washington City Paper, announced its publisher was looking to sell the paper. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) criticized the shutdown.

DCIST TWITTER

“Engaging more people in the DC political process gets more difficult when great local media like @DCist are unceremoniously shut down,” David Grosso tweeted.

Similarly, Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) praised the work of former DCist Editor-in-Chief Rachel Sadon, associate editor Rachel Kurzius and staff writer Christina Sturdivant. The three comprised DCist’s staff.

.@DCist covered local politics and stories that others didn’t. @SeeSturdi @Rachel_Sadon @Curious_Kurz no longer on the beat is a big loss,” Nadeau tweeted, referring to the staff’s Twitter accounts.

Media critics and local news editors at the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times were also quick to condemn the decision, decrying the deteriorating state of local news outlets. A 2016 Pew Research Center report on the state of news media found a drastic drop in newspaper circulation since the 2008 recession and a gradual decline in local television viewership since 2007.

Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade and DNAinfo, said the shutdown was a difficult business decision to make.

“DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure,” Ricketts wrote on all DNAinfo and Gothamist websites Nov. 2. “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.”

DNAinfo covered news in New York City and Chicago, while Gothamist was the parent company for sites covering local news in New York City, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., the latter site being DCist. Though only the New York outlet of Gothamist chose to unionize, all five branches have been shut down.

News archives and links to news stories previously published on these sites were inaccessible for 24 hours soon after Ricketts released the decision, though archived versions are now online.

DNAinfo and Gothamist management previously indicated the group was sustaining financial challenges and said unionizing would present another obstacle.

“The decision by the editorial team to unionize is simply another competitive obstacle making it harder for the business to be financially successful,” a DNAinfo spokesperson told The New York Times Nov. 2.

Leading up to the decision, some DNAinfo and Gothamist writers worried it would negatively affect the entire network.

“This is a direct retaliation for unionizing,” former DNAinfo writer Noah Hurowitz said in an interview with Mashable Nov 2.

Dan Swartz, DNAinfo executive vice president, warned staff in April about retaliation.

“Would a union be the final straw that caused the business to be closed? I don’t know,” Swartz wrote in an email obtained by the New York Daily News.

Ricketts praised the work the outlets contributed.

“More important than large numbers of visits and fans, we’ve reported tens of thousands of stories that have informed, impacted, and inspired millions of people,” Ricketts wrote. “In the process, I believe we’ve left the world a better place.”

Management of Gothamist and DNAinfo shut down production on Thursday and plan to close the entire business within 90 days.  The DCist continued publishing articles five hours before Ricketts shut down the company.

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