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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“We can operate with a much faster metabolism than the Times or the Post,” Dobkin says. “We don’t have to be comprehensive. We have fifty posts a day, and we want all of them to be super-interesting. We want people to pass the information around.”

“It’s exciting to help spread information and empower people to know their city,” says Chung. She plucks some wisdom from her advertising days: “You want people to have a reaction to these stories. You want to hit emotions.”

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.

 Gothamist’s voice is ‘We love the city,’” says Dobkin. “‘It’s not perfect, and when it’s imperfect we can talk about why. But it’s a great city, and we should all feel really lucky to live here.’ It’s a voice that is honest, positive, and sarcastic when called for, like the voice of a real New Yorker who knows the city and cares about it but who doesn’t tolerate bullshit, and who can enjoy a good joke.” Or, as Chung says, “It’s the voice of your most knowledgeable New York friend who’s going to give it to you straight.”

Photograph by Nicole BrownNot Jimmy Breslin barroom-wisdom-like-a-fist-through-cigar-smoke straight, though that’s the spirit. This voice has been cured not with Joe Mitchell’s gin, but with Onion satire, Vice saltiness, the sweet dust of Entertainment Weekly, the nutritional yeast of the Times, and the “roaringly funny gay wit,” as one Gothamist writer called it, of Village Voice gossip columnist Michael Musto ’76CC. (When Gothamist asked Musto in an interview how he’s had to adapt to the rise of gossip blogs like Gawker and Perez Hilton, the Gossipist replied, “Not at all, because I was sort of the original blogger anyway — I just didn’t have a blog. I was the original snarky, sardonic person.”)

Typical of Gothamist’s biting style and unapologetic New York chauvinism is the commentary of Gothamist managing editor John Del Signore, who performs the service of pointing out the un–New York character of spectacles like the worldwide No Pants Subway Ride (“We’ve had just about enough of this formulaic nonsense and want it to stop. Not because we’re against fun, but because New York City is fun enough without this inane exercise in half-assed exhibitionism”) and SantaCon, a national event whose local version brings thousands of young adults dressed as Kris Kringle to the bars, sidewalks, and eventually the gutters of Manhattan, starting at 10 a.m. “Over the years, this annual drunken shitshow has steadily devolved from cleverly subversive to barely tolerable to ‘time to lock yourself in your apartment for the day,’” Del Signore wrote. “Is it just us or was this year’s SantaCon even more obnoxiously fratastic than usual?”

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