I saw Gothamist publisher Jake Dobkin at Gelf Magazine’s Media Circus several months ago. He was funny. He made a lot of good points about how “old media” missed the boat. But I can’t help but think he’s only able to do that because he’s in a uniquely fortunate position.
He made similar points to New York Times execs last week, saying that “specifically in local, I don’t think the Times has had an original idea for years.” There is some truth to that statement. But it sounds awfully strange coming from the publisher of a site whose entire existence is based on piecing together other people’s original content.
That’s not a knock on Gothamist. It’s just a simple fact. I like Gothamist, and I have no problem with content aggregation, which it does very well. One issue with the internet is that it overloads us with information, and, because of that, there is a vital role for sites that collect that information and make it digestible. Gothamist is very, very good at that. But let’s be frank here: while what Gothamist does is valuable, it hardly qualifies as “an original idea.” It’s just putting together other people’s stuff and writing about it. Gothamist has been so successful because it happened to pop up right when it was viable to build a business from that, and it was smart enough to get some good writers on board to do it.
Dobkin’s recommendation about the Times metro section is even more ridiculous: “either produce a much diminished product, or start acting more like us, doing less original reporting and more editorial curation.” So, diminish yourselves, or be more like us! This recommendation seems strange because earlier in the piece he criticizes the Times for The Local, which he says is a thinly veiled copy of Brownstoner, and City Room, which he calls “a fairly lazy and sleep-inducing rip-off of Gothamist.” So his solution is, presumably….for the Times to become a less lazy and sleep inducing version of Gothamist? The problem with that, of course, is that there’s already Gothamist.
Which brings me back to my point: Gothamist is successful because it got there first. Where it is, however, is a fairly obvious place to go. If there were no Gothamist, someone else would have thought to put together local stories in an entertaining way for twenty-and-thirty-somethings. It’s a perfectly nice and useful thing to do, but it’s hardly a groundbreaking concept. Gothamist was lucky enough to get in on the easy part. Editorial curation in itself is hardly the future of journalism.