Joe Ricketts, the billionaire owner of news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist, shut both of those websites down last Thursday a week after their New York staffs voted to join a union. The move was a very sad shock, and it deprived New Yorkers of important sources of local news. Lots of excellent reporters are out of work.
Afterwards, several readers reached out to make sure West Side Rag is sticking around. We are, don’t worry! But in the wake of those sites shutting down, we are thinking about ways to make sure the Rag is here for the long haul. We’re also looking at ways to expand to help fill the void in local news in New York City.
Local news is vital to neighborhoods all over the country, but it’s disappearing at a steady clip as businesses move advertising dollars they once spent on newspapers to places like Facebook and Google. Still, there are some signs of hope. In the last few years, independently owned news sites have sprung up throughout the country, sometimes run by one or two people. Some have grown large enough to field large staffs that bring fast and accurate news to people whose local papers have cut back on coverage — there are fantastic sites in places like Tucson and New Haven that have inspired this one.
West Side Rag is independent too. No billionaire owners here. Also no millionaires!
We don’t have a big staff at the Rag. No one here’s full-time in fact. But we’ve been quite lucky to find some very good people to do the often-arduous work of reporting and writing stories. Often these people don’t have reporting backgrounds — they’re students, bartenders, retirees, corporate desk-jockeys, nonprofit workers — but they’re dedicated and learn fast. From attending meetings, to tracking down tips sent in by readers, they do much of the hard work on the site.
No other outlet had the kind of comprehensive coverage we did of the contentious school rezoning battle last year, for instance. And our work sometimes makes a difference. An article about rats in local playgrounds eventually forced the mayor to allocate $750,000 to fixing the problem. Stories in the Rag have led to changes in state housing policy and pushed the city to reverse its decision on censoring an artist’s work in Riverside Park. After our story about West Side Judaica’s impending closure, customers flooded in and convinced them to stay open. We also do our best to inform people of meetings and events in advance, so you can get involved in the community.
Not everything is serious of course! We are adamant about making readers laugh as often as possible, sometimes with terrible puns and sometimes with stories about random melons or bunny meetups or guys who look for dates by posting their addresses on telephone poles. There is no story too trivial that we won’t investigate it!
The site is successful because of readers. You’re the ones who send in tips, prod us for coverage of issues, and share stories with writers. Upper West Siders are remarkably involved in their community, and keep on top of elected officials and the press.
Going forward, we’re aiming to keep the same balance of accurate journalism, and absurd slices of life. We’d also like to continue to improve the journalism, and send more reporters to cover stories about areas that are sometimes overlooked — public housing, education, certain environmental issues, among others.
So how can you help? We may need to start raising money to help keep the site financially healthy and expand — we’ll let readers know about that in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please consider supporting our advertisers. Remind your neighbors to sign up for our email newsletter, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. And we do need more writers and photographers. If you’d like to be a part of ensuring the Rag sticks around, and possibly expands to other neighborhoods, send us an email at westsiderag at gmail dot com with the subject line “I Love Local News.” Explain a little about how you’d like to help.
Also, please keep the stream of tips coming.
Here’s how to be a good tipster:
If you see something (even if it seems trivial!), snap a photo and send it to westsiderag at gmail dot com. Say when and where you saw it, and give us as much detail as possible. Include any other possible sources who may have information. Let us know if we can use your name if we write about it.
Thanks for reading!
Photo by Sarah Ackerman.