News

WAMU Buys DCist

Two anonymous donors helped fund the purchase.

The DC-area public broadcaster WAMU has acquired the assets of local-news site DCist, which abruptly shut down last November. It intends to begin operating the publication anew at some point this spring, separately from the station’s main newsroom at first but with plans to integrate the organizations.

WAMU purchased DCist in concert with the public radio stations WNYC and KPCC, which picked up DCist’s former corporate siblings Gothamist and LAist, respectively. The acquisition, the stations say in a press release, is funded in part by “two anonymous donors, who are deeply committed to supporting local journalism initiatives and the station partners.”

Reached by phone, WAMU chief content officer Andi McDaniel says she’s unaware of the donors’ identity. The whole deal was led by WNYC and began to come together in the last three weeks. In what McDaniel says was a coincidence, former DCist Editor Rachel Sadon started working on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show around the same time. That was fortuitous: She was invaluable in helping the station figure out whether it wanted to take part in the deal. “Frankly I don’t know if we could have done this without her,” McDaniel says. Both Sadon and McDaniel tell Washingtonian they’ve discussed the possibility of her taking over her old site. McDaniel says Sadon is the station’s “first call,” and that they’re “excited to keep that conversation going.” 

WAMU plans to staff the site at the same level at which it operated before its billionaire owner pulled the plug: Three full-time positions, with contributions from freelancers.

For WAMU the acquisition fulfills an internal imperative to attack digital news with increasing vigor, something DCist did extremely well. McDaniel stresses that in no way does WAMU expect DCist to replace any of its existing newsgathering operations, and that she hopes that WAMU will be able to learn from DCist’s experience in building its audience. As to how the two news orgs will operate in proximity but not step on each other’s toes, that’s the kind of thing to be worked out hopefully before launch, she says.

One more thing: DCist has for the most part maintained a focus on the District of Columbia and not the surrounding jurisdictions that make up WAMU’s audience, something the station has tried to adjust for in its newsroom, encouraging its reporters to cross the District line in search of stories. Whether WAMU will encourage DCist to broaden its focus is “Undetermined at this point,” McDaniel says, but “We don’t plan to take our existing roadmap for our newsroom and superimpose it on DCist.” 

 

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously the news editor and lead media reporter for the Poynter Institute, arts editor for the now completely vanished TBD.com, and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.