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.

  • Andrew

    That last paragraph was what I was hoping to see. Thank you. I hope you’re able to take on a few of the Gothamist/DNAinfo reporters who’ve done good work in this area.

  • Joe R.

    I hope mainstream news outlets see the value in this type of reporting and hire some former Gothamist/DNAinfo reporters also.

  • Larry Littlefield

    It is almost as if local, on the ground reporting has to be a side gig to your main source of income, or non-profit. Or, sadly, financed by the same self-interest groups that otherwise control local politics, and their flack operations.

    The shutdown of these sites contrasts with the success of new media sites covering the federal government. Because there is only one of to cover for the whole country.

    I think state and local government needs to be covered nationally, as well, just for reasons of economies of scale. One sees the same issues and trends popping up in many places, starting in some of them, if one see’s the data. At least that’s true of the public employment and finance data I write about. The same, perhaps, for transportation issues.

  • Larry Littlefield

    They only have the concerns of those our age or older. Mass transit and biking are not among them.

    I think the reason Gothamist realized things were getting worse on the subway before anyone else is social media. People started posting pictures of overflowing subway platforms due to delays, and Gothamist started reposting them. And there started to be more and more of them.

    I’m not even on social media. Still waiting for them to invent anti-social media.

  • Vooch

    very very good news – they are restarting Gothamist !!! ( in exile )

    https://gothamistinexile.com/2017/11/03/we-are-many/

  • JarekFA

    I don’t think it’s actually affiliated with the former Gothamist team. Rickets owns all the rights.

  • Vooch

    It’s the writers banding together and recreating Gothamist on their own.

    Hence Gothamistinexile

  • JarekFA

    Local news, just like taxis (looking at you Uber), cannot scale. That’s the long and the short of it. By its very nature, it is labor intensive. You need people, who are getting paid, more than a stipend, to sit through boring ass community meetings, take notes and write it up. You can’t just “consolidate it and run it by Washington” or whatever. Gothamist, while hyper local, wasn’t as comprehensive as DNA (but would still cover important hyper local issues), was able to remain profitable.

    It’s a shame in so many ways and truly a civic loss.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Some of it is, but some of it isn’t. People in your town getting addicted to opiods is local in many places. The fact that his was spreading across the country is local in one place. It showed up in the data.
    The data shows what to look for at the local level.

  • JarekFA

    15 months ago, the first two sites I’d visit every morning (aside from this one) were Gothamist and Gawker. Both killed by billionaires for vindictive reasons. Gothamist and DNA.info truly performed a public service. I’d know so much about the random changes on my local commercial streets. The “what’s happenings.” I’d even get the DNA Info sponsored e-mails and didn’t mind since often they were for events or products that I might be interested. And Gothamist’s voice was fantastic. Truly willing to call out bullshit while the other local tabloids would cover De Blasio or Cuomo’s new clothes.

  • JarekFA
  • JK

    Ben, thanks for writing this. Losing Gothamist and DNA is just plain bad for livable streets advocacy. Their synergy with Streetsblog and the livable streets movement was obvious. Beneath the snark, Gothamist was an optimistic voice, that embraced change and diversity. This is a big contrast to the tabloids, which are rooted in conflict and a basically negative world view in which public space, including the street, is an arena for mayhem, not an opportunity for better, healthier living.

  • Vooch

    thanks for the clarity

  • BortLicensePlatez

    Thats a right wing troll site… Beware astroturfing.

  • Maggie

    This is the article that led me to Gothamist – hard to believe this was as recent as 2013.

    They did tremendous work in covering and voicing legitimate, everyday concerns and joys of living in NYC. Another moment of appreciation – in February 2015 their monthly things-to-do column recommended a little off-Broadway project that I wanted to see right away… some little show about Alexander Hamilton. They’re sorely missed already – their closure leaves a huge, distressing void.

    http://gothamist.com/2013/03/19/driver_hits_cyclist_in_bike_lane_an.php

  • Larry Littlefield

    Here is what I’m talking about. Here is a terrific piece of reporting.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2017-retail-debt/

    The next step is to turn those county maps into a population-driven cartogram, so you can actually see what is happening in places like New York City.

    And then have people all over the country go out and get the qualitative story locally.

    One story is every landlord wanted national chains, because even if the local store failed they still had access to the entire company’s resources to pay the lease. How is that looking now?

    After the national retailers go bankrupt, the landlords go bankrupt, the properties are resold at low prices, and the spaces come available at low rents, there is the potential for a lot of creativity here. That will be a local store — everywhere.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Here is one from 2006.

    http://gothamist.com/2006/03/29/real_estate_bub.php

    Most people’s views harden to cement in their late teens and early 20s, and that prevents them from seeing the perfectly obvious. Like the housing bubble.

  • JTP Choons

    I had a bit of a love hate relationship with Gothamist. On the one hand it was great for all the reasons listed above. On the other hand, there was often a nasty atmosphere in the commenting community – many of the regulars would resort to name calling (troll!) and hostility if you disagreed with them and had arguments to back it up. Regulars would frequently flag comments as spam if they didn’t agree with them. It was so insulting to see comments removed as “spam” when there was nothing spammy about them and you’d spent a long time researching them with links, quotes and stats to back them up. And the moderators would kow-tow to this echo chamber mentality, never restoring any flagged comments. I once got into a disagreement with someone (some aspect of the minimum wage) and despite the fact that I stayed civilized and factual throughout the discussion, my “nemesis” started getting abusive and hostile. Next thing I know they’d deleted all of my comments in the thread, and when I tried to post a comment asking why it said “you have been banned by Gothamist.” I’ve seen others complain about the same thing. It left a sour taste in my mouth. Echo chambers are never a good thing.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “On the other hand, there was often a nasty atmosphere in the commenting community.”
    That’s true everywhere. The anonymity of the internet has revealed how nasty many people actually are.

  • Joe R.

    I’ve never understood those who think rising property values are so wonderful. Historically, real estate rises to keep pace with inflation and that’s it. When prices greatly outpace inflation something is seriously wrong. Real estate developers and speculators may benefit. So do those looking to cash in their homes and move to Florida. Everyone else suffers. The mentality of keeping prices high seems to be I want to get mine, and to hell with everyone else.

    What the bubble is doing to ordinary folks is forcing many people to live under one roof, often with strangers. Good example is the house next door. Someone bought it for I think $800K. He was originally going to live there with his family and rent out the first floor and basement. However, the potential renters all wanted the second floor. Now I think he’s renting out everything. I saw at least 6 people living in the basement. And two families above them. This is the only way people are paying these insane prices. The idea of a single family buying their home to live there is practically dead in lots of places. Who can afford to pay maybe $100K down and a $700K mortgage?

    This is even hurting those with siblings who are living with parent(s) are getting on in years like myself and want to stay in the house after their parents pass on. If I have to buy out my siblings when my mom passes, I can’t afford it at today’s ridiculous prices. And if they continue rising I couldn’t save money fast enough to outpace what I would need to come up with. My only hope is the bubble crashes and prices drop to inflation-adjusted norms. That would be about $200K for this house given that my parents paid $52K for it in 1978. I can afford 2/3rds of that to buy out my siblings. I can’t afford much more.

    What galls me even more is the primary beneficiaries of the real estate bubble are people who are already rich. They don’t even need the money, but their greed keeps them from doing the right thing and just letting prices readjust to inflation. I hope the bubble bursts before they have a chance to cash out. I’d love to see jerks who bought a bunch of houses at already high prices, thinking they were going to get even richer, get stuck with all of them having under water mortgages.

  • Joe R.

    I guess you’ve never been to the comment section of Yahoo news. That makes the Gothamist comments look civilized by comparison. The Yahoo comments are so bad it makes me fear for the future of the human race seeing that there’s that many really stupid, misinformed people out there.

  • mug of mead

    re:”to sit through boring ass community meetings”

    the meetings in CB 9 in brooklyn have been pretty contentious recently.

  • mug of mead

    re:I think the reason Gothamist realized things were getting worse on the subway before anyone else is social media. ”

    they certainly took note if things on the L train were a mess though.

  • JTP Choons

    Oh yes and also YouTube and Facebook. However, Gothamist is a much smaller local community, so there should be less of a “hit and run” atmosphere in the comments.

  • JTP Choons

    Yeah it’s not so much that there were nasty commenters as it was the tendency of the moderators to side with them and to penalize anyone who didn’t walk in lockstep with the majority. I don’t see this sort of thing in Streetsblog comments, for instance.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “What galls me even more is the primary beneficiaries of the real estate bubble are people who are already rich.”

    The only beneficiaries are those who cash in and move out. I’m one of those theoretically enriched by the bubble, but what good would that do me? Only if I move away.

    Even those who move within the bubble area just break even.
    Bubble sale price, bubble purchase price.

    Those who stretch and buy are screwed.

  • Joe R.

    Exactly. In theory I suppose we could sell the house and I could use the money to buy something much cheaper in the sticks. Problem is I would hate living in a place like that with a passion. And I don’t have a driver’s license. In fact, with my carpal tunnel syndrome I can’t physically drive for any length of time because I can’t grip a steering wheel without it hurting like hell.

    That isn’t getting into who the heck feels like moving when they’re in they’re late 50s or 60s, which I would probably be when mom passes. Perhaps even 70s if she lives well into her 90s.

  • Maggie

    Is that 63 S. 4th street in Brooklyn? The zillow estimate for today’s value is $2.9 million.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The insanity rolls on. Zero percent interest rates will do that. Hopefully they at least fixed up the property.

  • Maggie

    It looks like they fixed it up to get decent rents, and zoning permitting, they’re undoubtedly getting offers from developers who would build at higher density (if that is the address, I’m just guessing).

    This would be more of a discussion for the Gothamist comments, but if you put $949,000 in the S&P 500 in March 2006 and just held, you’d have $2.4 million in March 2017. I very much doubt the W’burg purchase in March 2006 was all equity, but if it was, you’ve got a property assessed at $2.9 million today and then you just have to add transaction costs, property taxes, and the capital improvements to your basis.

  • Nicholas & Teichberg are not right-wingers!

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When Streetsblog launched in 2006, the site made an impact almost immediately. The daily scrutiny of NYC transportation agencies and elected officials created new opportunities for policy reform, leading to real change in the design and operation of our streets. It wasn’t long before advocates from out of town contacted Streetsblog about bringing this model […]