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SFist shut down by new billionaire Republican owner

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http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/on-guard/

San Franciscans, brothers, sisters, folks of all genders, today we mourn: SFist is gone.

The beloved local news site was part of Gothamist, a national network of community-focused blogs. All of the blogs were shut down summarily today by billionaire republican Joe Ricketts, a despicable Trump-backer whose name sounds distinctly like a terrible skeletal disorder (see: rickets) who will now go down in history as a colossal jackass for depriving cities of needed local news.

“Today, I’ve made the difficult decision to discontinue publishing DNAinfo and Gothamist,” Ricketts wrote in a web post to Gothamist readers. “Reaching this decision wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t one I made lightly.”

In what is surely no coincidence, Gothamist and DNAinfo’s reporters and editors voted to unionize just last Thursday. Today, 115 reporters and editors lost their jobs, according to the New York Times.

Ricketts also shut down his website DNAinfo, which he started in 2009. Both DNAinfo and Gothamist reportedly net more than 15 million visits monthly.

Ricketts bought Gothamist in March, according to Politico, but a mere eight months later, claims DNAinfo and Gothamist couldn’t “crack the code” to profitable neighborhood storytelling.

“While we made important progress toward building DNAinfo into a successful business, in the end, that progress hasn’t been sufficient to support the tremendous effort and expense needed to produce the type of journalism on which the company was founded,” he wrote.

Gothamist debuted in 2003, according to Politico, and was founded by Jen Chung and Jake Dobkin. Locally, SFist was co-founded in 2004 by Eve Batey, Rita Hao and Jackson West.

“I am definitely surprised,” Batey told me, when reached by phone.

Batey calls herself a “founding writer” of the site, which was entirely volunteer-run until Brock Keeling became its first full-time editor “about” seven years ago, Batey recalled.

“It was Brock Keeling who really took SFist into the big time,” she said.

SFist’s bread and butter was aggregation of local stories spun with wit, humor and a dash of snark that made staid news palatable for San Franciscans. That’s huge. I can tell you that as a journo who often deals with in-the-weed news, it’s great to have a fellow outlet that can take a lighter point of view. Because the more voices trumpeting the news, the better.

But SFist did more than put a fun spin on others’ stories, it also dug out its own. Batey pointed to its outing of former-Mayor Gavin Newsom’s press secretary, Peter Ragone, who used fake names on various blogs and news sites to defend Newsom — and often lighting journalists on fire (figuratively) to do so.

Worse yet, SFist’s archive is now inaccessible.

“I wrote about the 49ers for NINE years for that site,” wrote Daisy Barringer, who wrote Daisy Does the Niners for SFist. “Every single article is gone. I have literally nothing to show for my hard work.”

Still, SFist’s unique wit and style cannot be undersold.

“SFist has been a funny, beautiful, honest voice for San Francisco,” said freelancer-about-town Beth Spotswood, whose own hilarious, insightful writing has graced many San Francisco publications.

Spotswood said, “I think Eve Batey was huge in developing that, and championing that” uniquely SFist voice.

SFist may be gone, Batey noted, but the two staffers and trove of freelancers who made it sing will likely still report in San Francisco.

“Joe, you better watch your ass!” she said, good naturedly. I hope she’s right. Those writers have done a great service for San Francisco time and again.

Pour one out for SFist tonight.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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