ON BPR: Noah Hurowitz and Ross Barkan discuss the downfall of DNA Info and Gothamist

The reporters at DNA Info are martyrs for the cause of organized labor who just wanted to have a say in how their business was run, and they do not regret their decision to unionize even though they knew doing so could mean they’d lose their jobs, former staffer Noah Hurowitz claimed on the latest edition of Brooklyn Paper Radio.

“This was largely not about money or benefits, it was about a collective voice for the editorial employees that we didn’t feel was protected and respected,” Hurowitz told host and Brooklyn Paper editor-in-chief Vince DiMiceli. “Maybe if you listen to the troops in the trenches a little more, you’ll be more successful.”

Of course, now that billionaire Joe Ricketts has closed the site, the fruits of such a collaboration will never see the light of day, and that’s too bad, according to freelance journalist Ross Barkan, whose Columbia Journalism Review piece on the closure likened it to the end of community journalism as we know it. He added on the show that the loss of Gothamist, which Ricketts purchased and combined with DNA Info less than a year ago, was the latest closure of a newspaper or website willing to take a stand on things, as opposed to just reporting the news.

“Gawker and Gothamist were very up-front about their opinions and were very willing to go on crusades and write with a sense of righteousness,” he said. “Those places that really had value in New York City no longer exist, and that is a major loss as well.”

A long-time listener and first-time caller then hijacked the show, wondering if the answer for community news is to get readers to pay subscriptions to help pay for the costs of doing business — something he said he was willing to do for a site like DNA Info or Gothamist.

That opened the door to the question of whether aggregators like Facebook or Google should help pay for the news sites that grease their users wheels lest they run out of content.

“Facebook is starting to understand that they are now in the news business,” Barkan said. “They’ve woken up to the reality that this isn’t just a place where people talk about their pet cat. It’s also the place where people get their news. My hope is Facebook understands it has an obligation to the news industry, and to be something of a news organization in itself. That means having editors curate news and the feed so you don’t see such a wild spread of misinformation.”

In the end Barkan wondered if Facebook and Google will one day do something they’ve never done in the past: cut news organizations in on the action.

“They need to stop being money-hungry capitalists for a second and consider the well being of democracies,” he said. “They are worth many, many billions of dollars. You can take a fraction of the revenue they take in and subsidize many news organizations. Maybe Mark Zuckerberg is more of an altruist than I think.”

Hurowitz, though, had a different approach.

“Get me in a room with Mark Zuckerberg and I will shake him upside down and I guarantee you’ll have enough money to run a website,” he joked.

Ross Barkan

Brooklyn Paper radio is recorded and podcast live every Tuesday at 3:30 pm — for your convenience — from our studio in America’s Downtown and can be found, as always, right here on BrooklynPaper.com, on iTunes, and of course, on Stitcher.