This billionaire CEO just shut down some of New York City's most important news sites
Money is a threat to journalism. Where independent publications be sued into oblivion, or shut down by the whims of its CEO, they are not truly free. They are only contingent, and all the effort, intellect, public service and prose that goes into writing a good piece can all be stifled if a union-busting boss thinks the price of upkeep is no longer worth the hassle.
Joe Ricketts, the former CEO of TD Ameritrade, founded DNAinfo.com in 2009, a local news site that operated primarily in New York and Chicago. In March of 2017, he bought Gothamist, another major New York focused publication in a time when local reporting has been scarcer and harder to fund than ever. Chicagoist, DCist, Last and SFist were also under his umbrella of ownership.
Joe Ricketts donated a million dollars to Donald Trump last year, and has a net worth of $2.1 billion. But now, he has shut down all of these sites, and wiped all of the reporting ever written for them, in response to an attempt by employees to form a union.
Ricketts' blog includes posts titled "Why I'm Against Unions At Businesses I Create". Ricketts wrote:
"I’m not interested in any agenda at any company I start, other than working together to deliver something exceptional to consumers and doing it as everyone pulls shoulder-to-shoulder tackling whatever the marketplace throws at us."
It's a load of crap. It's transparently a load of crap, because all it took was talk of a union for him to completely erase the company, fire everyone, and move on as if the reporting has no intrinsic value, and is only there to make Joe Ricketts even richer than he already is.
It's hard to truly describe how malicious and cruel a decision this is. Closing the business without any warning is one thing. Erasing the websites, and all of the reporting ever written for them, is absolutely insane. Ricketts cares nothing for his employees, as his actions have made obvious. He is a union-buster masquerading as a mogul of journalism.
Imagine that you demand better wages and benefits, and in response, your boss fires your company and shreds the records of all the work you ever did at that company. It sounds too insane to be true, but this is literally what has happened. All the writers for DNAinfo.com, Gothamist, Chicagoist and more are all screwed, and all the stories they reported are gone. Who will fill the void of local journalism left in their absence? Surely someone, but the loss of the site archives and the sheer petulance of Ricketts is cosmic in scale.
A spokesperson for DNAinfo.com said that the "decision by the editorial team to unionize is simply another competitive obstacle making it harder for the business to be financially successful."
So, a wage hike is out of the question, but Joe Ricketts can give Trump a million dollars, and hoard two billion for himself, then shutter a decade-old business that he only bought eight months ago?
You can check out the defunct sites for yourself. It's a disaster for journalism, for writing, and for anyone who cares about workers and their work rather than the comfort of billionaire union-busting CEOs.