John Ness is out as editor-in-chief of DNAinfo.com, sources in the newsroom have told Jezebel. Ness did not return a request for comment about the circumstances of his leaving.
We do know, however, that members of DNAinfo’s most senior editorial staff were laid off in the run-up to the announcement earlier this week that the local-news organization, founded by right-wing billionaire Joe Ricketts, was acquiring Gothamist LLC, a network of web sites covering several major American cities.
“John was offered a position outside of NYC leading a forthcoming potential expansion initiative by the combined DNAinfo/Gothamist,” a person who does public relations for Ricketts (and who requested that Jezebel attribute the comments to a spokesperson for DNAInfo) told Jezebel in an emailed statement. “For personal reasons, John elected to pursue other opportunities that will permit him to remain in NYC. We are grateful to John and wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Under Ness, one staffer noted on Twitter, DNAinfo “has steadily gotten its best traffic ever,” due in large part to the fact that the site’s reporters stepped into the void left by major newspapers’ withdrawal from local coverage. Aggregation-heavy sites like Gothamist rely on DNAinfo reporters to do the legwork of breaking stories to blog about in the first place.
On Wednesday, Jezebel reported that Gothamist had removed negative coverage of Ricketts, a Republican financier whose son is serving in the Trump administration, while discussing the potential acquisition. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Ricketts family made at least $27.5 million in political contributions in 2016 alone.
According to a former DNAinfo staffer, in February, Ricketts accidentally sent a message intended for DNAinfo’s vice president of human resources to all of his employees, asking for copies of W-2 paperwork for all employees making salaries of $100,000 or more. Jezebel obtained an apparent screenshot of that email (and Ricketts’ apparent attempts to unsend it):
“This email was sent accidentally and we don’t comment on personnel matters,” the Ricketts/DNAInfo spokesperson said.
If you have any more information about DNAinfo, Gothamist, or Joe Ricketts, please get in touch.