Joe Ricketts in 2012. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)
Media critic

Unfathomable: Billionaire TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts on Thursday announced the shuttering of DNAinfo, a superlative local site in New York City and Chicago, and the Gothamist family of local urban websites with editions in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as the New York Times reported.

No, it’s not unfathomable that another venture in web-based local news has crumbled or faltered. That happens all the time.

The unfathomable part is what happens when you attempt to log on to those sites. They don’t come up. Instead, you get Ricketts’s explanation as to why everything is going kaput. “Today, I’ve made the difficult decision to discontinue publishing DNAinfo and Gothamist. Reaching this decision wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t one I made lightly,” writes Ricketts at the beginning of his closure note.

As the New York Times pointed out, workers at the combined DNAinfo-Gothamist newsroom in New York voted to unionize. The movement to organize under the Writers Guild of America East was opposed by management, with Ricketts himself writing a post titled, “Why I’m Against Unions At Businesses I Create.” The non-New York websites under Ricketts’s control did not join the union. “The decision by the editorial team to unionize is simply another competitive obstacle making it harder for the business to be financially successful,” said a company spokesperson to the New York Times.

The move immediately throws 115 people out of their jobs doing the grunt work of American democracy: That is, establishing the most immediate and consequential connection between residents and the Fourth Estate. To appreciate just how low-to-the-ground these sites scraped for news, it’s generally best to show samples of the stories they produced. That’s a bit difficult now, considering that the sites’ pages default to the Ricketts shut-down announcement. Just try it.

At the moment, there’s a great deal of confusion as to what will happen to the trough of information at sites such as DCist, SFist, LAist and the rest of the crew. An employee of the organization contacted by the Erik Wemple Blog on Thursday evening had few answers as to what was happening.

Facebook is still around, and a scroll down the DNAinfo page provides an inventory of the sort of content that will disappear forever — and perhaps never be covered by another media outlet. Just over recent days, there was a story on Williamsburg rezoning; photos stolen from MoMA; a group trying to save the home of the author of “Harold and the Purple Crayon”; the “Eco-Dock” coming to the Astoria Waterfront; a bagel shop shuttered because of mice; and many, many more. We’d normally provide links to those stories, but they no longer work. They merely bounce back to that same statement, which includes this thought from Ricketts:

“I’m hopeful that in time, someone will crack the code on a business that can support exceptional neighborhood storytelling for I believe telling those stories remains essential.”

Preserving them is essential as well.

UPDATE: A DNAinfo spokesperson issued this statement: “DNAinfo will be preserving and archiving all DNAinfo and Gothamist stories. The details of that are among the issues the company will address in the coming weeks.”