Chicagoist and DNAinfo shut down by publisher Joe Ricketts

CHICAGO — The parent companies of both DNAinfo Chicago and Chicagoist were suddenly shut down by publisher and Chief Executive Officer Joe Ricketts Thursday, with the complete contents of the sites and their networks replaced by a letter from Ricketts explaining why they were ceasing operations.

“…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,” Ricketts says in the letter.

Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade, backed the creation of the neighborhood-focused news site DNAinfo in New York in 2009, and expanded online coverage to Chicago in 2012. Ricketts acquired Gothamist, a global network of city-focused arts, culture, and news websites that spread to Chicago in 2004, back in March of 2017.

“Reaching this decision wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t one I made lightly,” Ricketts said in the letter.

Ricketts’ decision to shut down both DNAinfo and Gothamist comes a week after their combined newsrooms voted to unionize in New York.

Not only have DNAinfo Chicago and Chicagoist ceased operations, but also their archives containing a combined 17 years of local coverage are also no longer accessible, with both  websites redirecting to Ricketts’ letter. Some posts have survived in the Internet Archive (for DNAinfo and Chicagoist), but it remains unclear whether Ricketts has any plans to restore the sites for archival purposes.

Both sites were publishing stories and links to social media just hours before they were shut down.

News of the websites’ demise quickly started trending on social media, as journalists and readers expressed dismay over the shutdown of companies that focused on local coverage in an increasingly national and consolidated media environment.

This is a developing story. Check back for more updates.

You can see the full contents of Ricketts’ letter below.

Dear DNAinfo and Gothamist Readers:

Today, I’ve made the difficult decision to discontinue publishing DNAinfo and Gothamist. Reaching this decision wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t one I made lightly.

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. These were stories that weren’t getting told, and because I believe people care deeply about the things that happen where they live and work, I thought we could build a large and loyal audience that advertisers would want to reach.

A lot of what I believed would happen did, but not all of it. Today, DNAinfo and Gothamist deliver news and information each day to over half a million people’s email inboxes; we have over 2 million fans across our social channels; and each month, we have over 15 million visits to our sites by over 9 million people. But 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. And in the process, I believe we’ve left the world a better place.

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.

Sincerely,

Joe Ricketts
Chief Executive Officer