Business Insider reports that Joe Ricketts, the billionaire owner of TD Ameritrade and a major Republican donor, abruptly shut down the network of local publications he owned last week after two of them — Gothamist and DNAinfo (both publications covered Harlem) — attempted to unionize.
In a letter on Thursday that populated the landing pages of the websites, Ricketts cited the financial burden the network of publications were under, saying that “progress hasn’t been sufficient to support the tremendous effort and expense needed to produce the type of journalism on which the company was founded.”
“DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure,”
“DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure,” Ricketts said.
Gothamist, DNAinfo, Chicagoist, DNAinfo Chicago, DCist, and LAist, were all abruptly shut down, and the archives of years of posts were inaccessible as of Thursday evening.
Employees reacted in shock, learning about the termination of their sites in an email sent to staff around the same time Ricketts’ letter was posted on the homepage of several sites.
The move came just a week after DNAinfo and Gothamist employees voted to unionize, which appeared to affect management’s decision.
A spokesperson for DNAinfo told The New York Times that the “decision by the editorial team to unionize is simply another competitive obstacle making it harder for the business to be financially successful.”
For its part, management had voiced its opposition to a union. DNAinfo‘s chief operating office said the union might be the “final straw that caused the business to close,” while Ricketts himself penned a blog post titled “Why I’m Against Unions At Businesses I Create.“
The move immediately sparked criticism online.
Some observers argued that Ricketts, a deep-pocketed Republican donor who has thrown millions into political campaigns, was hypocritical for penny-pinching at relatively low-cost publications.
Others noted that Ricketts had not seemed as concerned about the rising costs when he bought Gothamist in early March.