DCist, the once-defunct local Washington, D.C. news website, is set to be revived following its acquisition by D.C. radio station WAMU.
WAMU announced Feb. 23 its plans to relaunch the website. The acquisition of DCist was part of a three-way deal with public media outlets WNYC in New York and KPCC in Southern California to acquire DCist and two of its affiliates, Gothamist and LAist. The revival of DCist accompanies WAMU’s hopes to increase its digital presence and regional coverage.
DCist was shuttered last November after a labor union dispute arose at Gothamist, DCist’s parent company. TD Ameritrade founder and former CEO Joe Ricketts purchased the site in April 2017, shortly before Gothamist writers voted overwhelmingly to unionize with the labor union Writers Guild of America, East. Ricketts initially refused to recognize the labor union, but the National Labor Relations Board voted in October 2017 to legally recognize the union, setting up a showdown between the website’s unionized members and Ricketts. Within a week, Gothamist was shut down.
Funds for the acquisition of DCist, Gothamist and LAist came “in large part through generous philanthropic donations from two anonymous donors, who are deeply committed to supporting local journalism initiatives and the partners,” according to a Feb. 23 news release produced by the acquiring radio stations.
WAMU paid an “initial partnership fee” to join the three-way deal, WAMU Chief Content Officer Andi McDaniel said in a Feb. 23 WAMU article. WAMU plans to cover DCist’s future operating expenses, such as freelance budgets and staff salaries, according to McDaniel.
Critics and local news editors viewed the shutdown of DCist as a sign of deterioration of local news. DCist had been called the “millennials’ local paper of record” by the editorial board of the local urbanism-focused blog Greater Greater Washington.
McDaniel said in a statement that the local aspect of DCist’s news coverage was a natural fit with the content that WAMU focuses on.
“This was an opportunity that when we learned about it, it seemed like such a natural fit,” McDaniel said. “The kind of community and neighborhood-level reporting that DCist does, and its beloved status locally, just aligned naturally with what our mission is.”
JJ Yore, general manager of WAMU, also cited the decline of regional journalism as an incentive for WAMU to revive DCist. He said he hoped the revival of DCist would help Washingtonians connect with the region.
“WAMU connects Washingtonians with each other and the world, and DCist will enhance our coverage of the region and expand our digital reach,” Yore said in the Feb. 23 WAMU article. “At a time when local journalism is declining everywhere, we are excited to revive this important news source for our region.”
Rick Edmonds, a media analyst for the Poynter Institute, said in the Feb. 23 WAMU article that he sees the revival of DCist as a step forward for public radio news coverage.
“People have been thinking for a long time that public radio could do more in local news,” Edmonds said. “I take this to be a step in that direction.”
McDaniel said she hopes the revival of DCist would both please old readers and appeal to a broader audience.
“We think it’s an opportunity to bring more to our listeners, and to people who maybe aren’t already listeners,” McDaniel said in the Feb. 23 WAMU article.
WAMU expects to launch the new DCist website in spring 2018, with hopes of doing a “slight refresh” of the site before publication, according to McDaniel.