On Thursday afternoon, all the content vanished from the DNAinfo and Gothamist network of websites, replaced by a letter from owner and CEO Joe Ricketts announcing that he'd "made the difficult decision to discontinue publishing." Some 115 employees have been laid off, the New York Times reported
, including those working at DNAinfo Chicago, which Ricketts launched in 2012
, and Chicagoist, the 13-year-old blog he acquired in March. Staffers will be placed on paid administrative leave through February 2, according to CNN
The shutdown comes a week after the editorial staff of DNAInfo New York and Gothamist voted to unionize. Staff at the Chicago sites hadn't attempted to organize.
"As I am sure is true for all of you, this is a sad and disappointing day, but I would like us to wind down things in the way we have always operated: with integrity and professionalism," Ricketts wrote in a letter to employees, CNN reported.
News of the shutdown came unexpectedly—even to the sites' management-level staff:
The entirety of Ricketts's letter to DNAinfo and Chicagoist readers is pasted below, but I'll paraphrase it for you: This outlet for unbiased, invaluable local journalism has a large audience and has made the world a better place. But it isn't making a profit. And even though I'm worth $2.1 billion and donated millions to the Trump campaign last year—and I can certainly afford to take the loss—I just really, really hate unions.
DNAinfo New York and Gothamist voted on October 26 to join the Writers Guild of America East by a margin of 25-2. When the workers initially organized in the spring, Ricketts told them:
I understand people feel that being in a union will give you a greater voice in the company’s business decisions. I can promise you that I am doing my best to make good decisions that will help the business to succeed while treating employees fairly. As I said earlier, I care deeply about the people who work for me. But, and I realize this is not what you want to hear, as long as it’s my money that’s paying for everything, I intend to be the one making the decisions about the direction of the business.
It was a veiled threat: As long as I pay the bills, you don't unionize.
In an e-mail to staff about the same time, DNAinfo chief operating officer Dan Swartz made a similarly ominous remark: "Would a union be the final straw that caused the business to close? I don’t know."
Ricketts's decision comes as no surprise if you read his personal blog. The TD Ameritrade founder, an ultraconservative Republican donor, was explicit in his anti-union stance in a September 12 post called "Why I'm Against Unions At Businesses I Create."
He argues that unions haven't been useful in a century and now "exert efforts that tend to destroy the Free Enterprise system." (Shhh, don't tell Ricketts that the baseball franchise his family owns, the Chicago Cubs, keeps ballooning in value despite the fact that the team collectively bargains with the Major League Baseball Players Association—widely considered the strongest union in professional sports.)
Between taking steps to shut down the beloved journalism operations he owns, Ricketts found time today to write a defense of Trump
, who has made a habit of publicly decrying the mainstream media. (Ricketts spent $1 million of his own money
to support Trump's candidacy via the Future 45 political action committee.) "The Trump candidacy was about taking a sledgehammer to the political establishment," he wrote in the post, titled "Attacks on President Trump Show the Political Class Has Learned Nothing." "The American people preferred the successful businessman to the credentialed career politicians and bureaucrats."
Then Ricketts took his own sledgehammer to what's become a significant part of the local journalism establishment.
Chicago media Twitter responded this afternoon with shock and anger to the shutdown of DNAinfo Chicago and Chicagoist: