The Eyes of Gotham
How did Jen Chung and Jake Dobkin, cofounders of the New York blog Gothamist, turn a simple message board among friends into the hottest news source in town?by Paul Hond Published Spring 2012
“A Bronx-bound D train was evacuated at West 4th Street early Friday morning after a suspicious passenger was discovered cowering under a seat. It was an opossum! Aw, isn’t it adorable? Well, no, not really; opossums are actually quite terrifying.” — Gothamist, January 2012
“The whole city smells like maple syrup and everyone knows it!” — Gothamist, October 2005
Eight million stories in the Naked City, sure. A Manhattan banker stabs a cabbie over a disputed fare, a car kills a bicyclist on Staten Island, the health department shutters a Queens hospital, Brooklyn sanitation workers get caught issuing bogus tickets. The Bronx? They closed down the Monkey House.
The other 7,999,995?
Step this way.
Maybe you, too, have heard the rumor, echoing in the corridors of the New York Times, that Jake Dobkin ’98CC and Jen Chung ’98CC, the dynamic duo behind the local news blog Gothamist, gather their wide-ranging NYC intel with the aid of a crystal ball. Crazy? We think so. But we’re not taking any chances. We’re getting on the F train to Brooklyn to see for ourselves. Stand clear of the closing doors, please.
Brooklyn! With a name like Gothamist and a logo of skyscrapers, we’d figured the blogcave would be wedged beneath a winged gargoyle in Midtown. Instead, we get off at York Street and emerge in a district of converted warehouses and new brick high-rises once known as Gairville but rebranded in the nineties as Dumbo, which stands for Developers Urge Millionaires to Brooklyn, Oh no! — or, more officially, Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Names aside, Dumbo has become home to the smarties of New York’s tech startup community — companies like e-commerce upstart Etsy and branding consultancy Big Spaceship.
We walk down Jay Street to a nineteenth-century warehouse by the river, go inside, ride a packed elevator to the eighth floor, follow a long hallway to the door of Gothamist LLC, and step into a big, immaculate, sun-flooded office — the opposite of a cave. “Holy Front Page!” we murmur as we behold the true source of the blog’s omniscience: a dozen staffers in their twenties and thirties who sit at Ikea tables, pecking quietly at laptops. Not a crystal ball in sight. Nor any messy desks, bulletin boards, or ringing phones. Just large windows framing the girders and cables of the Manhattan Bridge, blond wood floors, and, on the white walls, color photographs of New York industrial landscapes, shot by Dobkin. In the clean, open kitchen, a small metal table holds a city of bottles: vodka, gin, Kahlúa, Purell.
Have we just entered the twenty-first-century newsroom?
Chung, Gothamist’s executive editor, strides cheerfully into the waiting area and greets us. Having settled the crystal-ball question, we wish to delve into another. Chung offers us water and leads us into a conference room, where an aerial photo of the World Trade Center construction site hangs on the wall. In a moment, Dobkin, Gothamist’s publisher, arrives. With his glasses and silver singe at the temples, he looks like the nice doctor he might have become had he stayed in medical school.