Local reporting and journalism was dealt a blow yesterday when billionaire TD Ameritrade founder and Trump supporter Joe Ricketts shut down the websites Gothamist and DNAInfo.
Ricketts decision to shut down the sites puts 115 journalists in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C out of work. The sites now link to Ricketts’ statement on why he decided to shut down the sites.
On October 26, the staff of DNAInfo New York and Gothamist voted to join the Writers Guild of America East. In the past, Ricketts had threatened to shut down the websites if the writers attempted to unionize.
“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.”
He made good on that promise Thursday night.
Website staffers will receive three months of paid administrative leave at full salary and four weeks of severance. The union released a statement about the websites demise. “It is no secret that threats were made to these workers during the organizing drive. The Guild will be looking at all of our potential areas of recourse and we will aggressively pursue our new members’ rights.”
While laying off employees because they’re engaged in union activity is illegal, shutting down an entire business like Ricketts did is acceptable.
Ricketts’ decision to shut down the sites leaves reporters unable to access their work. Reporters have to access clips of their work through a wayback portal. Reporters from Gothamist and DNAInfo reacted to the news on social media.
When Ricketts bought Gothamist earlier this year, he deleted any unflattering coverage of himself on the website. He is also no stranger to politics. During the 2012 presidential campaign, Ricketts considered investing $10 million into ads linking Obama to his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. He also invested in controversial filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza’s book ads and film The Roots of Obama’s Rage
D’Souza was convicted of making illegal contributions to a Republican candidate in 2012.
Ricketts donated $1 million to support Trump’s campaign. Just before shutting down the websites, Ricketts published a blog defending President Trump on his personal website.