When SFist abruptly shut down on Nov. 2, 2017 — along with Gothamist, LAist, and several other sites — it essentially occurred when a vindictive billionaire displaying his displeasure with a unionization drive. But now, 15 months later, the site is back.
The news had been teased in early January, but this morning, former editor-in-chief Jay Barmann revealed that he is back on the project, as is frequent SF Weekly contributor Joe Kukura. Other SFist writers may also return in the medium-term, and Barmann gave a generous shoutout to people like Eve Batey, Jessica Lachenal, Caleb Pershan, and Brock Keeling who’d been long-time staffers and editors in the first incarnation.
“It’s not every day that we get to bring back the dead, but today that’s happening for SFist,” Barmann said in an accompanying press release. “And it’s not every day that I get to help perform the CPR that revives the patient just when we thought she was for-real lost.”
Having been revived by new owners Impress3 Media — pronounced “Impress Three” — and its CEO Zachary Chen, it appears that SFist is not coming back just to become a soulless zombie-aggregator staffed by Yelp-loving algorithms, as some early reports seemed to imply. The relaunch plans had been afoot as long ago as July 2018, Barmann says, and there’s already been a Massachusetts site called Up to Boston.
“This feels like their real beta, in terms of building a city site, and they want to do more of this with a focus on local news,” Barmann tells SF Weekly by phone. “They are working on some kind of software, but all of this takes time. … It’s all going to be run by real people.”
Barmann emphasized that this was “not some big-money play” and that he got a “very good vibe” from Chen that the latter is determined to make the project succeed. The site has been redesigned, and the new version of SFist will have a stronger Instagram presence and likely run more sports stories.
So it’s not another plutocrat buying a toy. In November 2017, Joe Ricketts, the Trump-supporting billionaire CEO of parent company DNAInfo, wrote a bloviating post explaining his decision to end all the blogs at once, claiming that the company’s business model simply wasn’t profitable about a week after the staff voted to unionize. That Ricketts also (temporarily) turned off the site’s archives, essentially sticking it to newly unemployed contributors who now had no way to access their own clips, was rather revealing — as was a story that went up on The New York Times even before many of the DNA Info‘s own staffers had heard the news. In it was this gem:
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.”
Well, that espirit de corps is back, and Bay Area journalism is unquestionably stronger when there are more outlets. SF Weekly wishes SFist well.