FEATURE

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
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Photograph by Nicole Brown“Now, then,” we say, “since no business was ever born in a palace of sunlight, we must know: was there ever a blogcave?”

“In 2006,” says Chung, “I was working at an ad agency in SoHo. They had some extra office space that they let us sublet, so Jake and our operations person, Tien Mao, were able to take some cubicles.”

Blogcave!

“But we weren’t all together,” Chung continues. “We had writers working out of their apartments. Finally, in 2008, we got a small office in Dumbo so that we could be together and actually see each other, versus communicating just through e-mails and IMs.” Chung laughs. “Now, people sit right next to one another with headphones on and communicate by instant message.” 

Gothamist moved into the present space last June. Between 2010 and 2011, the blog saw a 50 percent increase in unique visitors and a 100 percent increase in income. It now employs more than twenty people, including a sales staff and seven full-time New York editors who generate fifty posts a day on crime, politics, pop culture, restaurants, and urban wildlife. And just to be clear: this isn’t a blog written by wannabes from Podunk Hollow who wear Brooklyn T-shirts and don’t know a bodega from a deli.

“It’s not like I think you have to be a New Yorker to be a good person,” says Dobkin with a sly smile. “But to write about New York in an honest way, you really do have to understand the city.”

And to get to the eighth floor, you’ve got to know which of the eight million stories people care about. What drives Gothamist’s traffic most are the big social themes: gentrification, suburban-strip-mall-ization, police violence, the bicycle wars, Occupy Wall Street. “OWS was huge for us,” says Dobkin. “We were covering it probably a month before the major media because it was a youth thing — all the young people were there, and our audience and our writers were very interested in it, so when it did explode, we were right there on the scene. We had a lot of sources and got a ton of traffic from it.” A recent story on one of the Times’s neighborhood blogs mentioned Gothamist’s coverage of an OWS march:

Christopher Robbins, a reporter for Gothamist, tweeted about the arrest on 14th Street, as well as about another arrest involving a bottle hurled on Ninth Street between Avenues B and C: “Protester right next to me throws bottle, ducks down into crowd. NYPD swoop in, arrest wrong guy, thrower gets away.”

Readers of Gothamist would have gotten further context from reporter Robbins:

The instances of projectiles being thrown were met with scorn, outrage, and chants of “This is a peaceful protest” by a majority of the protesters. When a can and a bottle were thrown on 14th Street, the crowd was stunned into silence.

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