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2017-11-03 03:18:17

The popular and long-running expat blog Shanghaiist has abruptly closed up shop just days after staff at its parent publication decided to unionize.

The website — founded in 2005 and part of the New York-based Gothamist network — took down all of its content on Thursday and replaced it with a notice from Gothamist’s CEO, Joe Ricketts.

A former Shanghaiist editor told Sixth Tone that the news had come as a “huge shock.”

“Many of us were concerned when Gothamist was sold to DNAInfo [earlier this year], but we never expected anything so brutal or sudden,” he said, noting that Shanghaiist had little connection to the main network. As he still works in media, he requested anonymity for fear of professional repercussions.

Staff at Shanghaiist hadn’t been involved in the union drive, although they would have supported it, the former staffer said.

Another former Shanghaiist staffer agreed that the relationship with the Gothamist network had grown “increasingly tenuous,” with the Shanghai-based publication operating relatively independently of its parent while retaining the trappings of the larger brand. His gut feeling is that this will not be the end of the Shanghaiist; rather, he expects current staff to resurrect the publication in some form in the future.

The decision to close the string of publications — found in a handful of major cities around the world — came a week after reporters and editors in the combined Gothamist and DNAinfo newsroom in New York opted to unionize. But a spokeswoman for DNAinfo said the decision to unionize was only another competitive obstacle in a financially challenging environment, The New York Times reported.

“Reaching this decision wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t one I made lightly,” said Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritade, which owns Gothamist, DNAinfo, and other neighbourhood-focused news sites, including Shanghaiist. However, he noted that at the end of the day, DNAinfo was a business — and “businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure.”

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

On Friday morning, Shanghaiist managing editor Kenneth Tan posted simply on Twitter, “FML,” using a popular internet slang term indicating immense distress.

Shanghaiist’s Twitter and Facebook posts — which have around 5.5 million combined followers — continued functioning as normal on Friday morning, but all posts redirecting to a website displayed Ricketts’ statement.

There has been an outpouring of support for the English-language site online, with fans taking to Shanghaiist’s social media platforms to express their sadness. “RIP Shanghaiist — Gonna miss you guys. This sucks,” read one comment. Others praised the site for bringing much-needed levity to China news coverage.

This article has been updated with additional comments from Shanghaiist staff.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Yang Guang for Sixth Tone)