Late last week, while on my lunch break, I lost my job as editor in chief at LAist. I’d just finished a bowl of unmemorable office cafeteria chili and was sitting in the lobby of our WeWork when a coworker in New York sent me a three-word text: “Check your inbox.”
At the same time, a writer who’d started with us a few weeks earlier was trying to preview a post but couldn’t get the site to load. Another writer walked over to help her, but when he finally managed to refresh the page, her work was nowhere to be found. Instead, the entire site—which had been in operation for more than a decade—had disappeared. In place of 13 years of work, there was just a letter from our billionaire owner Joe Ricketts, informing readers that he had made “the difficult decision” to discontinue publishing DNAinfo and Gothamist, our parent site.
The message in my inbox, which I was still trying to make sense of, had little more explanation than the public letter. With what appeared to have been the flip of a switch, 116 journalists had lost their jobs, and LAist had been shuttered—along with our four sister sites in New York, Chicago, D.C., and San Francisco, and the DNAinfo sites in New York and Chicago.
The Gothamist and DNAinfo New York newsrooms had formally voted to unionize a week earlier, despite strenuous objections from management. And contrary to what Ricketts’ letter may have said, the decision to close DNAinfo and the Gothamist sites (which Ricketts had purchased in March) was political, and not merely a question of finances: Although continuously turning a profit in the news business is notoriously difficult, the five “ist” sites, as we referred to them, had managed to operate in the black.