What We Owe Gothamist and DNAinfo

A classic from the vault.
A classic from the vault.

When I started reporting for Streetsblog in 2008, writing about biking as transportation was still an oddity in NYC media, and community boards were making crucial decisions about streets and transit with very little public scrutiny. Reporters with Gothamist and DNAinfo changed that, and I want to take a moment to recognize those contributions.

As competitive as the local news business may be, outlets also complement each other in a web of mutually beneficial awareness and attention-sharing. For a mission-driven publication like Streetsblog covering specific issue areas, bigger general interest outlets are indispensable to amplify our reporting.

Gothamist launched a few years before Streetsblog and was always the first place we’d turn when we published a scoop, or an especially piercing perspective, or even just an arresting photograph. We’d email editors directly to see if they’d bite. (Things were different back then. Nowadays you just tweet into the ether and see where the story catches on.)

The thing about Gothamist was that it kept getting better. The reporting became more detailed while the point of view became more pronounced. And the evolution of the site was a godsend for bicycling in NYC.

Reporters like John del Signore, Chris Robbins, and Lauren Evans took bicycling seriously. It sounds like a simple thing but it made a huge difference.

Streetsblog was fighting a pretty lonely battle up until a few years ago. Much of the NYC press treated cyclists like aliens and bike infrastructure like an artifact that should be blasted back into space. The Gothamist crew was different. They published exposes of shoddy NYPD crash investigations, they appreciated a good bike lane, and they weren’t afraid to mock the outlandish anti-bike propaganda emanating from TV news and the tabloids.

I firmly believe that without Gothamist, bicycling and bike infrastructure would still be covered as fringe interests in most major NYC outlets today.

DNAinfo reporters, meanwhile, were everywhere, and it’s hard to overstate the value of their neighborhood coverage. The site’s run was a golden age for fine-grained local coverage, including reporting on community boards in neighborhoods where their deliberations and decisions are seldom exposed to sunlight.

DNAinfo investigations opened up avenues for Streetsblog to pursue. Gwynne Hogan’s stories on Action Carting this summer revealed the company’s abysmal safety record — reporting that informed Streetsblog coverage of the company’s still-thriving business with city government.

I’m only skimming the surface of what Gothamist and DNAinfo meant to the city. (The biggest outlet banging the drum for Andrew Cuomo to fix the MTA just went quiet!) The void that Joe Ricketts has created is simply stunning. I’ve still got the muscle memory of checking both sites for news to include in our morning headline stack, and I expect that’s going to linger for a long time.

There are other news outlets doing good neighborhood coverage in NYC, and I hope they succeed and grow. But for now, there are fewer reporters on the ground, and less reporting getting done. Stories won’t get told, and powerful people won’t be held accountable.

Streetsblog can’t hire everyone who lost a job last week. But if you’re looking for freelance work and want to pitch stories about transit, biking, or walking in NYC, get in touch.


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