This post was written by Jake Dobkin, publisher and co-founder of Gothamist. It was orignally printed on Facebook, and it is reprinted here with his permission.
I’m on a panel at the Times on Thursday morning. It’s for the New York Times executives, and David Carr is moderating. We’re discussing local news, and the Wall Street Journal’s forthcoming foray into NYC Metro coverage. In advance, David sent an email with a question for each panelist. Here’s my response. Let me know if you’ve got anything you think is worth adding!
Jake, you’ve competed with the NYTimes in the metro space. It has formidable resources, but how do you see the newspaper landing in the local market? Do you think that the incoming cohort of consumers see the Times as a credible editorial resource in New York political and cultural affairs?
I don’t think a paper that loses millions of dollars a year and funds itself by taking extortionary loans from plutocratic Mexican billionaires can be said to be competing in anything, Metro or otherwise. My feeling is you only get to congratulate yourself if you produce a great product and make money doing it— you don’t get any points for doing just the first half. And that doesn’t just go for you guys— I don’t think any magazine or newspaper that supports itself by sucking on the teat of some old rich guy (or his heirs!) should be giving anyone else advice.
Specifically in local, I don’t think the Times has had an original idea in years. It’s got a metro staff of what, 60 reporters, and look at all this innovation: Cityroom, which is a fairly lazy and sleep-inducing ripoff of Gothamist, and The Local, a recently closed ripoff of Brownstoner. Five years ago The Times could have bought the best local blogs in New York for a song— instead, they decided they could do it better in-house, and completely surrendered the 20-40 year old demographic to sites like ours.
Each day in NYC, Gothamist produces 50+ posts, drawn from hundreds of local sources and a dash of our own reporting. We do that with five full time editors and a couple of interns here in DUMBO. How many stories does the Times Metro section produce? 25? Sure, they’re all original, but I’d rather read Gothamist- it’s more interesting, and it tells me more about the city. That’s not to say that the Times doesn’t produce credible, interesting local stories- of course they do. But in the paper’s slavish devotion to originality and old-fashioned reporting, they’ve lost their most important civic role, which is being the master curator which tells people in the city what’s important each day. They just don’t do that for people my age any more.
As the Times Metro staff shrinks from 60 to 30 to 15, there’s no question they’re going to have a hard time even doing the 25 daily stories they’re putting out now. So I see two options for their future: either produce a much diminished product, or start acting more like us, doing less original reporting and more editorial curation. But by the time they wake up to that reality, it’ll be a long, hard slog to reclaim the relevancy they had a generation ago.
Finally— I’ve been asked a bunch of times whether I’m worried Gothamist won’t have anything left to curate once the Times goes out of business. But I’m not— first of all, new billionaires seem to roll up every year with their vanity media products, dumping tons of new content at our doorstep. Rupert’s new retread of the New York Sun has got to be worth a couple of dozen stories a day at least. Between those billionaire rubes, the dozens of mainstream media outlets that survive (radio, tv, local papers), and the hundreds of hyperlocal neighbourhood blogs that spring up like mushrooms every year, I don’t think we’ll ever run out of local content to pass through our curation machine.
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