SFist Abruptly Shuts Down

Another one bites the dust — this time so abruptly that some employees learned of it by refreshing the home page.

Done-zo

UPDATE (Friday, Nov. 3, 11:10 a.m.): The SFist archives were restored sometime during the last hour or so, and the site is once again accessible.

 

We normally don’t write a lot of media-on-media stories, because of the prevalence of petty vindictiveness and gross navel-gazing. But we’re very saddened by the sudden and very shocking news that SFist just shut down, along with Gothamist and all the other “-ists,” like LAist or DCist.

It was about as abrupt as abrupt gets. Parent company DNAInfo does not appear to have told any staffers, and it also doesn’t look like the archives are available, either. According to the Washingtonian, at least one staffer discovered what had happened when she refreshed the home page.

The SFist homepage is a redirect to a DNAInfo webpage. Using the standard heavy-hearted bullshit about what a tough call it was to derail a bunch of journalists’ careers, CEO Joe Ricketts posted the following message this afternoon:

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

This news comes approximately one week after the company voted to unionize, following in the footsteps of Vice, Salon, and the Guardian US. SF Weekly has reached out to former SFist editor Jay Barmann for a comment, but the timing is very suspicious — as is Ricketts bemoaning the costs of running a site that didn’t have a print component or even, for SFist at least, an office.

Further, given the reduction in local outlets over the last few years, there’s no way to say this isn’t a major loss for S.F. media. Longtime journalist Eve Batey had worked for SFist for years as an editor, and the site had just hired an additional writer, Jessica Lachenal.

Someone clearly leaked the news to The New York Times, which had a well-reported story up within minutes — before staffers knew. The key graf is the third-to-last one: 

In September, Mr. Ricketts, a conservative who supported President Trump in last year’s election, raised the ante with a post on his blog titled “Why I’m Against Unions At Businesses I Create,” in which he argued that “unions promote a corrosive us-against-them dynamic that destroys the esprit de corps businesses need to succeed.”

So: They destroyed a left-leaning journalistic outlet at least in part because of a billionaire’s passion for plutocracy. Making the archives inaccessible to hundreds of writers who must now look for other employment is the real fuck-you here, too. Also, for what it’s worth, Ricketts is part of the same conservative family that made its fortune with TD Ameritrade and owns the Chicago Cubs. His brother Pete Ricketts is the Republican governor of Nebraska.

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