In the latest blow to local journalism, billionaire Joe Ricketts on Thursday shut down local news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist, which he owns.
The move comes one week after editors and reporters at the site’s New York newsroom successfully joined a union, but the closing also affects the company’s entire network of sites in places like Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., according to the New York Times. It put 115 journalists out of work in total.
Journalists at the websites were publishing work and tweeting stories on Thursday afternoon. Then a post was published on the sites around 5 p.m. from Ricketts announcing his decision to close them down.
“I started DNAinfo in 2009 at a time when few people were investing in media companies. But I believed an opportunity existed to build a successful company that would report unbiased neighborhood news and information,” wrote Ricketts, who founded stock brokerage TD Ameritrade.
While Ricketts said the websites “reported tens of thousands of stories that have informed, impacted, and inspired millions of people,” he added that wasn’t enough to keep them going.
“But DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure,” his note said.
All the websites in the DNAInfo and Gothamist network, including other popular local news destinations like DCist, LAist, and Chicagoist, appeared to be taken down on Thursday, with all sites redirecting to Ricketts’ note. Journalists and others quickly expressed anger on social media, pointing out that not only were many of the country’s biggest cities losing local news reporting, but the journalists who had just lost their jobs are now without access to their work.
Ricketts bought Gothamist earlier this year, according to Politico, and he opposed the New York office’s effort to unionize. He also owns the Chicago Cubs, and has become heavily involved in politics in recent years. After trying to help defeat Barack Obama in 2012, the Ricketts family opposed Donald Trump during the 2016 primary season but then pledged $1 million to a pro-Trump super PAC once he became the Republican presidential nominee, the Washington Post reported at the time.
Without Ricketts’ news sites, cities like New York are left with even fewer options for local journalism at a time when many media organizations are struggling to find business models to sustain their work.