About the Importance of Local News, In the Wake of DNAinfo Closing Down

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.

COLUMNS | 21 comments | permalink
    1. Cecil Hooker says:

      Thank you for being there!

    2. Roger Bilco says:

      Glad we have you WSR! Your coverage is not only critical for staying informed but helps me feel more connected to the neighborhood. That’s hard to achieve given the turnover of people in NYC in general!

    3. lovethatphoto says:

      WSR is a gift to the neighborhood. West siders are lucky to have this publication. How else would we know what was happening in our backyards or how we could join the discussion to make a difference? Let’s do what we can to make this publication and others like it survive. WSR, thanks for reaching out to your readership and please continue to keep us informed on how we can help – writing, funding, and of course, laughing at the human (and other) foibles we live with and you remind us about.

    4. lynn says:

      I only learned about the WSR when I moved here 4 years ago, and it’s been a wonderful source of info. I appreciate your efforts!

    5. jan levy says:

      Bravo West Side Rag! You are a vital part of the glue that unifies the UWS. And now you are a stand alone source. So we support you and look forward to the information you provide. Maybe a modest subscription would reassure your ability to continue for many a year Thank you for your valuable contributions. Looking forward to your continued presence.

    6. jean mensing says:

      I love West Side Rag and always love local news …. where ever I am local. I hope to be a “reporter” for you in the near future.

    7. David Tillyer says:

      I love WSR. I read it everyday, even though I live in the fifties. I’ve also depended on DNA Info and was shocked to hear this morning that the gazillionaire who owned it shut it down because of union activity. That’s sad and I thought union busting was over. Guess not.

      We do need a WSR for the midtown west side. The format of nonintrusive ads is fine. Even a subscriber base would be tolerable. The Times can’t do it and no one else seems to want to.

    8. Adam says:

      Did anyone notice how Koch Industries is now supporting NPR? Perhaps the word Public should be excised from the name? Somehow the BBC manages to put out 24 hours a day of radio in numerous languages without a single sponsor plug and no ‘fund drives’.

      • Stuart says:

        Adam, I guess you didn’t know that UK residents must pay a license fee when they purchase a tv, radio, or other audio player. These fees support the BBC. When you watch British shows on HBO or other cable channels, it’s because they have paid the BBC for the privledge. Also, as an NPR listener, you should already know that NPR pays the BBC to re-broadcast its programming during overnight hours. The US government barely supports public broadcasting (you can guess why), which is why Sesame Street is now produced by HBO.

      • Paul says:

        The BBC is more directly supported by tax dollars.

      • Ecobill says:

        From The Guardian newspaper:

        Only half of 16 to 24-year-olds know that the BBC is funded by the licence fee, while over a third of adults are unaware how the corporation’s website is funded.

        A new Ofcom report, adults’ media use and attitudes, found that just 52% of 16 to 24-year-olds knew that the BBC TV programmes are funded from the £145.50 annual TV licence fee charged to all UK households that watch live TV.

        The media regulator’s annual report also found that 37% of adults did not know that the BBC’s website is also funded by the licence fee.

        This is an improvement on the 44% who were not aware how the BBC website was funded in the 2014 Ofcom report.

        In March, a report published by the department of culture, media and sport analysed the benefits to commercial rivals if BBC Online moved away from “soft” stories, such as entertainment coverage.

        The Ofcom report found that one in four women did not know that the licence fee funds BBC TV shows, while 16% of men failed to give the right answer.

        Overall, Ofcom’s report found that overall 79% of those surveyed were aware that the licence fee is the main source of funding for BBC TV shows.

        The report shows that awareness is generational, with 70% of 25 to 34-year-olds and 93% of 55 to 64-year-olds aware of the corporation’s funding mechanism.

      • Independent says:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC

        The principal means of funding the BBC is through the television licence, costing £145.50 per year per household since April 2010. Such a licence is required to legally receive broadcast television across the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

        https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/apr/21/bbc-funding-only-half-of-young-people-know-about-licence-fee

        A new Ofcom report, adults’ media use and attitudes, found that just 52% of 16 to 24-year-olds knew that the BBC TV programmes are funded from the £145.50 annual TV licence fee charged to all UK households that watch live TV.

      • geoff says:

        those kochs are clever. that money for npr is as needed as the money they put into the old state theater at lincoln center. seriously, what is one to make of donations like his?

      • RK says:

        In order to own a TV in the UK you need to purchase a yearly license, and those proceeds fund the BBC. They do not fund the other networks, which is why those networks have commercials.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Television_licensing_in_the_United_Kingdom

        In other news- thank goodness for WSR!

    9. Kayson says:

      The BBC is funded by a government-imposed mandatory fee of $192/year paid by every single household and workplace in Great Britain that watches/uses television. (This is aside from what people may pay for cable, Netflix, etc.). The BBC also gets money from selling its TV, radio and news service content to the rest of the world — for example, to PBS.

    10. Lila Shoshkes says:

      Your newsletter is so important and indispensable to life here. I value your reports about the stories that are part of the neighborhood.

      Could you consider reporting on the open trenches that Con Ed have made on our streets. Or if the builders of the new residential buildings that are going up are contributing to improve the subways and schools.

    11. Jake Sigal says:

      I always appreciated the importance of a local news source, whenever I have the chance I contribute whatever I run across and occasionally cover event for you at the Rag. I will continue to support this site, we can’t lose this resource.

    12. Barb says:

      Thanks for the update.
      Do you have any information about the “ Lincoln Center Craft Fairs held twice a year? This Sept. with no explanation it was cancelled.

    13. Mark Moore says:

      I understand shutting down DNA since Ricketts started it and was losing money it. But it’s awful that he bought Gothamist and 6 months later shut it down when by all accounts it was profitable as a stand-alone entity.

    14. UpperWestSider says:

      love West Side Rag!! dont know what i’d do without you <3