CAB MINUTES: OCTOBER 2018
COMMUNITY BOARD MEETING MINUTES
Wednesday, October 10, 2018 at The Greene Space in downtown New York City
GUEST: Jake Dobkin & Jen Chung, Co-Founders, Gothamist
- Conversation with Jake Dobkin & Jen Chung
- Q&A with Gothamist
- Public Comment
- Community Advisory Board Business
PRESENTATION FROM Jake Dobkin & Jen Chung
Jake and Jen started by sharing information about themselves and Gothamist’s beginning. Jake described growing up in Park Slope as the son of parents who were “well-left of the Park Slope Food Coop”, imbued with a strong set of values and a public-school education. He proudly noted that he had never been away from NYC for more than 10 weeks in his 42 years. Jen described herself as growing up in New Jersey in awe of NYC and having the typical immigrant story of wanting to assimilate. After one year at Smith, Jen transferred to Columbia, along with Molly Dobkin, Jake’s sister, who led her to Jake, and this began Jake & Jen’s email correspondence. Jen began working at an ad agency; Jake, after dropping out of medical school after 2 weeks, began working at an ecommerce luxury.com site. As the ecommerce business went bust in 2002, Jake created a photography site, which Jen noted had a great comments function. Instead of emailing, Jen then began to post publicly on Jake’s site, and found great joy in seeing conversation about NYC unfold there and archived. This led to Jake’s creating a blog site for conversations about NY under the domain Gothamist. During ’02-03, Jake was living downtown in an area where a lot of blogging sites were starting up, i.e., The Gawker, and a connected blogging community developed. Writers for Gothamist were doing their day job and blogging at night/early morning. By 2005, the blogging scene became more corporate. Jen still liked connecting and making links, learning about NY, and Gothamist was a place to post and share interesting things and articles with friends. As friends moved to other cities, similar blog site domains were created, i.e., Chicagoist, LA, San Francisco, as a means of sharing interesting local information. There were no Tumblr, Facebook, not Twitter. People began to approach Gothamist asking how to place ads on their site, and the blog site became a way to earn money. For his day job, Jake attempted other endeavors, earning an MBA from NYU, yet he kept coming back to the Gothamist’s and decided to make it into a real business. Gothamist first office was in the Puck building, in a small back room at Jen’s ad agency. By 2008, they had moved to Dumbo, and were the first tenant of Green Desk, which went on to become, WeWork. Gothamist organically grew, and, in the process, Jake and Jen learned independent journalism, how to develop sources, how to be strategic, how to generate income with ads, etc.
Major scoops for Gothamist included breaking news on the L shutdown; ongoing coverage of the Japanese student pedestrian’s death by a police cruiser until a settlement was reached by his family (2013); early coverage of Occupy Wall Street; and the rise of bike lanes; all of these were stories considered “too small” for traditional newspapers.
Initially digital media reporters could not get Press Passes. With civil rights attorney Norman Segal’s help, they pursued passes for months and years, arguing with the Police Department, the issuer of credentials. When they received passes, they then forced NYPD to set up criteria for issuing passes to digital media reporters. These passes are now available and renewable every two years.
It took Gothamist 10 years to become successful. By 2016, they were posting 25 NY stories a day, focusing on small detailed stories that touched a deep nerve for New Yorkers. By the end of 2016, Facebook and Google were taking in large shares of ad revenue that was once on blog spaces, and with Gawker’s evisceration by a legal suit for one story, Jen and Jake looked for a major source of revenue. They negotiated a deal with DNAinfo’s owner thinking this would a perfect match of a more national network with a local network that could also garner national attention. It was a good opportunity for Gothamist to continue doing what they were doing on a larger scale without being so financially strapped. In March 2017, all sites were shut down by its owner as staff was considering unionizing.in an attempt to create a better work environment. Jena and Jake were unaware of the owner’s position on unions, and 150 people lost their jobs. Jen and Jake were able to connect to WNYC/NYPR, who wanted to help. Although the two were no longer owners of Gothamist, they were able to advise and help NYPR raise money to buy Gothamist. After being shut down for 4 months (Nov 2017- Feb 2018), upon purchase by NYPR, Gothamist was relaunched and some former staff people were brought back. Once on board at NYPR, Jake and Jen were able to expand WNYC’s digital presence. The Ask A Reporter series was launched, and local coverage was increased, just in time for the midterm elections. In addition, Gothamist staff were contributing stories to the WNYC News staff; Jen began recording stories for “The Hub” to be played on air. Although the audiences for Gothamist and NYPR are different, there has been overlap. Each brought new audiences to the other. Jen and Jake launched a Kick Starter campaign drive to subsidize Gothamist’s relaunching costs. It was the most successful Kick Starter campaign at that time, raising over $200,000. Today, Gothamist is doing ½ the number of posts (with ½ the staff) vs. its peak, but they are generating more internet traffic.
Q & A with Gothamist Cofounders
A listener wanted to know if the Gothamist staff was part of SAG-AFTRA union at NYPR. Traditionally, digital staff is not part of the union. As of this meeting, Gothamist staff was not.
(N.B. by early January 2019, an agreement with the union was reached to incorporate 25 Gothamist staff into the collective bargaining union at NYPR.)
A listener wanted an explanation of how a journalist’s mind works since he has been trying to get attention to a story about the corruption of Federal judges to no avail. Jen explained that reporters are often working on many stories simultaneously and checking their sources, noting that the Weinstein #MeToo case, despite rampant rumors, took years to bring to publication. Reporters get tips but can’t always chase them down, then suddenly they may appear again, and a story attracts interest. Jen encouraged people to send her stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many listeners expressed their love for Gothamist. A listener thanked Gothamist for working for safe cycling for Brooklyn. Jake noted that the financial support provided by being part of NYPR was phenomenal. It frees up their time chasing ad revenue. Because NYPR is a non-profit, it also opened the opportunity to apply for grants and it generated income by having membership dollars. Gothamist on its own could not have gone that route. It would have been impossible for Gothamist to be where they are now without NYPR support. He noted that prestige media can no longer survive on ad media alone.
Erica Johnson, CAB Vice Chair, wanted to understand how young reporters starting out can differentiate themselves now in digital media. Jen advocated for working on publishing stories, covering what interests you, continue to get feedback and follow up more on tips. She encouraged sending emails, starting as a freelancer, and applying for positions, writing to people, making connections and just putting yourself out there.
One final note: Jake noted that Gothamist could not start from scratch as it did today. There are new technologies: Instagram didn’t exist 6 years ago. New media will come from a combination of a new technology, a new voice and a new timeline, and it will need to ride a wave if it can to become successful. Gothamist was just one example of this at its beginning, 16 years ago.
Attendee expressed his concern about NYPR’s lack of transparency, given that it is a public radio station; listener stated that he believed that there should be more transparency on how much money is raised, how it is spent, etc. This comment included a brief discussion of corporate vs. nonprofit aspects of NYPR’s business model. In response to this request, Mary White, the BoT Liaison forwarded the link to NYPR’s Annual Review (with a link to the 990 Form) to the Chair, Barbara Gerolimatos for distribution to the CAB and the CAB Newsletter email list.
Dr. Friedland, a former CAB member, paid tribute to longtime WCBS radio announcer, Jane Tillman Irving, new CAB member, and Bob Hennelly, senior veteran reporter in attendance at meeting.
An attendee requested that WNYC News cover Verizon's ongoing change over to fiber optics and its concurrent failure to maintain the cooper wiring system and the resulting impact this will have on consumers.
Several attendees requested that the CAB meeting audio recordings once again be posted on the CAB website as they had been in the past. This is possible with additional staffing.
An attendee requested that WNYC News cover the "Kushner loophole” where real estate moguls file misinformation about the number of people covered by rent control in buildings slated for redevelopment in order to facilitate renovations.
COMMUNITY BOARD BUSINESS:
Reports on panel discussion topics and the CAB Self-Assessment Survey were made. Erica Johnson, Vice Chair, reported the top three interest areas from the public/CAB survey 1) Climate change, 2) Labor unions and 3) Services for the aging. CAB agreed try to do two more panel discussion between March and June 2019. Jake Wojnas, Vice Chair, CAB Self-Assessment Survey Committee, reported that they were close to finalizing the content of the survey. Once it is completed, a Google drive document will be set up so all CAB members can complete the survey anonymously. The goal is to have the survey analyzed by mid-February’s strategy meeting. Chair Gerolimatos encouraged 100% participation in the survey.
Chair Gerolimatos reviewed Mayo S. Stuntz,Jr. /Laura Walker letter sent to the CAB on September 24th in response to the CAB’s May 4, 2018 letter detailing our recommendations to NYPR for increasing transparency and improving communications with the CAB as a result of the harassment findings and subsequent firings of Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz in late 2017. Mary White clarified the role of the “ombudsman-like” position that was under consideration by NYPR.
NEXT MEETING DETAILS:
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Meeting: 6:30 PM, The Greene Space, 44 Charlton Street, New York (Google map)
Panel Discussion: Supporting Music Programs in Schools and Communities
Adam Wasserman (excused)
Anita Aboulafia (excused)
Barbara Gerolimatos, Chair
David N. Sztyk (excused)
Erica Johnson, Vice-chair
Grace Clarke (excused)
Jacob Wojnas, Vice-chair
Julia D. Fields
● 15 members of the public
● Mary White, BOT Liaison
Jane Tillman Irving
Kathryn Tornelli, Vice-chair
Michael Brown (excused)
Michaela Balderston (excused)
Samantha "Sam" Pedreiro (excused)
Stan Ince (excused)
italics = not present