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The End of DNAinfo and Gothamist Is a Loss for Local Coverage of Gun Violence

The abrupt demise of DNAInfo and the Gothamist chain of local news blogs sent shockwaves through their cities’ media ecosystems. The outlets helped fill a news hole left by the closing or shrinking of legacy print newspapers in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. From our perspective at The Trace, the shuttering of the DNAInfo, in particular, is especially concerning. The loss of its coverage means less attention paid to an already undercovered topic: the toll of daily gun violence on isolated, underserved neighborhoods and their residents.

In our two-plus years of existence, we’ve come to rely on reporting from these outlets to inform us about ground-level conditions in cities where we do not have a physical presence — Chicago, especially. A quick search shows that we have featured DNAInfo stories in 20 of our newsletters. The number of times we shared their stories with our readers on social media must be several times higher.

“It’s a huge loss for the city,” said the Reverend Michael Louis Pfleger, a prominent anti-gun-violence activist and senior pastor of St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church in the South Side Chicago neighborhood of Englewood. DNAInfo, he said, “gave more detailed information than you would get from a one-liner in another outlet. They made it personal. It wasn’t just a blurb.”

Father Pfleger said he worried that the loss of that detailed coverage could reinforce negative stereotypes about the city. “If there’s less information getting out, people will say of a quick notice of a shooting, oh, that’s just how it is in Chicago,” he said.

The now-shuttered newsroom’s coverage filtered up into national awareness of shootings and their consequences. Versha Sharma, managing editor of the viral news outlet Now This News, tweeted that she relied heavily on DNAinfo Chicago for story leads.

“This is tragic,” she said.

Of the many stories that DNAInfo Chicago published on gun violence in the city, here are a few that will stand out in our memory:

The moms who took back their block: As local Chicago journalist and activist Charles Preston pointed out in a Twitter post, DNAinfo was the first to report about Mothers Against Senseless Killings, an effective group of local volunteers. The site got the scoop the old-fashioned way: It had a reporter on the ground for the shooting that inspired the group.

After DNAInfo first covered MASK, one chapter of the group celebrated two years on a once-violence-prone block without a shooting.

Gangs with rifles: DNAinfo steadily chronicled the troubling rise of gangs armed with assault-style rifles in several South Side neighborhoods. Its stories examined the traffickers who brought the rifles onto city streets.

How trafficking works: A story about a public school teacher who sold guns to a police informant demonstrated how easy it is for local people to buy weapons across the state line in Indiana and resell them back in the city.

Collateral damage: The outlet stuck around to cover the aftermath of the tragic death of a Rogers Park teacher killed by a stray bullet.

Rising demand for guns: Reporters obtained records showing a surge last year in applications for gun permits in the city formerly known for keeping a tight lid on firearm ownership. The story demonstrated the real-life consequences of Supreme Court decisions weakening local gun laws.

“I’m disappointed the owner decided to do that, to shut it down,” said Mark Bryant, founder of the Gun Violence Archive, a national database that relies on local media reports like those produced by DNAinfo and Gothamist, along with police reports, to catalog shootings.

“They filled in the blanks,” Bryant said, “especially when legacy media has already moved on.”