Civic web news pioneer retools for 2013

Gotham Gazette, the 14-year-old civic news site published by the good-government group Citizens Union, rebooted Monday with a new look, refocused content and a new social media platform.

“When it first launched, there wasn’t anything like it,” said executive editor Cristian Salazar of the Gazette’s pre-millennial web roots.

Where the 1999 version of the Gazette sought to educate readers on a vast spectrum of public policy topics, the new edition whittles 24 topics down to eight: government, elections, environment, education, housing, health public safety, transportation, and the Eye-Opener, a blog that sprang from the site’s popular daily email newsletter.

The Gazette will also no longer post classified advertisements, as it had become too time consuming, said Salazar.

Salazar, a former Associated Press reporter who has been with the Gazette since May 2012, oversaw the revamp, which was designed to be tablet- and mobile-friendly. On the new site, readers can post multimedia comments, including audio and video, which will be moderated by editorial staff.

The new format emphasizes investigative, long-form pieces as well as explanatory work exploring government policy, geared toward cross-syndication with other news outlets.

Dick Dadey, the executive director of the Citizens Union Foundation, would not comment on the specific cost of the overhaul. As part of the transition, the Gazette will also hire a part-time reporter to cover City Hall and work with a new group of contributing editors. The Gazette has a current staff of three, including Salazar himself.

The Gazette’s evolution is in part a move to stay competitive with local blogs and news sites that have emerged since its dot-com–era launch. In 2011, the site had an average of 85,000 monthly unique users, but Salazar said that number has since dipped.

The survival of the website was not a given. “They were trying to decide whether Gotham Gazette had any place in the media anymore and whether they should continue to fund it,” he said of Citizens Union. Salazar said the Gazette was just like any other nonprofit journalism outlet in its ongoing struggle to secure funding.

The website and morning email continue to be destinations for professionals and advocates working in city policy, like George Sweeting, the deputy director of New York City’s Independent Budget Office.
“For my purposes, I find it very convenient to have the early news aggregation they do,” said Sweeting, who says he appreciates the Gazette’s focus on city policy and demographics. “There is a niche there that they can fill.”

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