LAist Abruptly Shuts Down

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Local news website LAist was abruptly shut down today, along with sister sites in four other cities, with the owner citing rising expenses but critics suggesting the action was a response to a unionization vote by reporters and editors at its New York locations.

Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade and owner of the ``ist'' websites in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, wrote in a message posted on the sites that ``businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure.''

He said while the company and its websites have made progress, ``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. I want to thank our readers for their support and loyalty through the years. And I want to thank our employees for their tireless effort and dedication.''

But while he thanked his employees, they appeared to have been caught off-guard by the sudden shutdown. LAist editor-in-chief Julia Wick wrote on Twitter that she and the staff found out when the site was abruptly taken down and replaced with Ricketts' letter.

``LAist also shut down & LA is worse off for it,'' Wick wrote in a post that included a link to a New York Times story announcing the closure of New York sites DNAinfo and Gothamist. ``We found out when you did. Thank you to everyone who wrote for us. You did great (expletive) work.''

Wick also tweeted a message to her staff, who suddenly found all of their online work deleted, saying a backup of the site may have been made that hopefully saved copies of their past stories.

Other than Ricketts' letter, all other content was deleted from the sites.

The New York Times noted that reporters and editors of DNAinfo and Gothamist voted last week to join a union, the Writers Guild of America East. While Ricketts did not address the union issue in his message, a company representative told the Times, ``The decision by the editorial team to unionize is simply another competitive obstacle making it harder for the business to be financially successful.''

According to the Times, the shutdown of the sites puts 115 journalists in the five cities where sites were operated. The company representative told the paper employees will receive three months of paid ``administrative leave'' at their full salaries, plus four weeks of severance.

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