Approximately 200 people gathered to protest the shutdown of local news outlets DNAinfo and Gothamist in City Hall Park today. The CEO of DNAinfo and Gothamist Joe Ricketts announced that the outlets would be discontinued last Thursday, one week after employees voted to unionize under the Writer’s Guild of America East.
Union members appeared at the rally, waving signs that read “long live local journalism.” Transportation Alternatives, Professional Staff Congress CUNY, Fast Food Workers Union and Democratic Socialists of America were among other organizations present.
City officials, journalists and union members spoke at the hourlong gathering. Throughout the event, speakers led the crowd in chanting “workers united will never be defeated,” “speak truth to power,” “union busting is disgusting” and “shame” in reference to Ricketts.
New York State Senator and speaker at the rally Michael Gianaris said to WSN that the two news outlets will be difficult to replace.
“These were two lifelines to keep local communities informed about what was happening,” Gianaris said. “The message it’s sending about the war on union organizing around the country is really bad, that someone could do this in retaliation for workers trying to be organized.”
In a statement released Thursday, Ricketts wrote that the publications’ closures were due to insufficient revenue. Additionally, Ricketts previously spoke out against unionization. In a post published on his personal website entitled “Why I’m Against Unions at Businesses I Create,” Ricketts wrote, “I believe unions promote a corrosive us-against-them dynamic that destroys the esprit de corps businesses need to succeed.”
While it is not illegal to shut down a business due to insufficient revenue, it is against the law to fire people because they exercised the right to unionize, according to the National Labor Relations Act.
New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams said to the crowd that the power of local journalism in covering traditionally underreported stories is vital to our society.
“Without you, so many stories are not going to be told,” Williams said.
Freelance journalist Felipe De La Hoz attended the rally and said he will miss the benefits of having local reporters.
“That was the last remaining bastion of that sort of very community-focused journalism where these people live and work in those communities,” De La Hoz said. “They’re not the people parachuting in — they’re the people who can tell you what’s going to happen before it happens.”
Katie Honan, who attended the rally, worked at DNAinfo for four-and-a-half years before it shut down.
“I don’t know what’s next,” Honan said. “I know there’s a great need for local journalism to fill the void of what DNAinfo and Gothamist filled.”
Labor activist, New York City native and rally attendee Erik Forman said that Ricketts’ actions extinguish the voices of the city’s residents.
“This is a calculated political move on the part of the CEO to try to silence one of the most powerful voices for everyday New Yorkers,” Forman said, holding a cardboard sign that read, “One journalist is worth a thousand billionaires.”
Despite being laid off, Honan said she thinks the company’s termination might help rally the community to support local journalism and she does not regret exercising her right to unionize.
“I think it’s showing the necessity of solidarity,” Honan said. “I don’t want people to be turned off or afraid to organize because of this.”
Email Sarah Jackson at [email protected].