Billionaire Evaporates Shanghaiist without Warning, Leaves Team Pondering New Beginnings

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4:34 AM HKT, Sat November 4, 2017 1 mins read

Early in the morning today, a petulant American billionaire pulled the plug on the Gothamist news networks. Shanghaiist staff, as well as expat and China-watching readers worldwide, woke up to the cold shock that their company was gone.

The decision comes shortly after editorial staff in New York’s DNAinfo and Gothamist offices voted to unionize. All links were redirected to a letter explaining the CEO Joe Ricketts’ actions:

Despite his words on his “difficult decision,” the internet is left questioning his motives. And Shanghaiist writers and fans, in particular, are left in the dark. Shanghaiist has over 5 million followers on Facebook (Gothamist, in comparison, has only around 250,000), and gets over 4 million page views per month — its under the larger umbrella of its parent company, but the site’s status as a longstanding go-to China blog makes it significantly independent, and even less ready for the backlash from events in the New York offices.

Shanghaiist had become a cornerstone of online insight into China, and many former writers and staff have gone on to hold positions at international news outlets. The China side of Twitter this morning broke into an outpouring of condolences, memories, outrage, and encouragement.

Shanghaiist managing editor Kenneth Tan

Former Shanghaiist writer Erik Crouch

CNN International Hong Kong reporter, and former Shanghaiist writer James Griffiths

Jake Newby, a former managing editor at Time Out Shanghai and freelance reporter who started his writing career at Shanghaiist, shared some of his thoughts with us:

First and foremost my thoughts are with Kenneth Tan and the current team — it was obviously horrible news for them to wake up to this morning. It’s odd because I always wondered whether Shanghaiist would one day be unavailable here, but not in these circumstances.

It seems there are conflicting reports over whether there’s an archive that can be accessed and put back online — hopefully there is a backup somewhere. To delete all of that work would be extremely malicious, and a real shame for readers. There’s over a decade’s worth of material as far as Shanghaiist is concerned, including things like the rolling coverage we did of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.

Despite the initial rude shock, which left viewers thinking that the site’s content had been purged from the internet altogether, New York Times and Quartz have received confirmation that the site is backed up daily, and will eventually be archived online.

This has the community wondering: what’s next for Shanghaiist? They have a powerful team, a strong following on social media, and a brand awareness that should be able to carry them into their next endeavor. Readers and members of the editorial community have speculated that the site will likely be reborn, in some form or another. A member of the last-generation Shanghaiist team seems to agree:

What I can say is that the managing editor and the staff are handling the situation in a calm, sober way, and that I am pretty sure they will make the most out of it.

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