We don’t know whether Knicks and Cablevision owner James Dolan will be writing a new blues song about this, but we’ve learned here at the Voice that what was earlier just a rumor is now definitely true: The purported deal for Dolan’s Rainbow Media to purchase Jake Dobkin’s Gothamist blogging empire isn’t going to happen.
Gawker has already theorized that a now-infamous utterance which appeared right here on this blog jeopardized the sale, but insiders tell us the deal died for other reasons.
Dolan’s Rainbow Media owns the IFC and Sundance Channels, which, despite their well-known names, could use a better digital presence, particularly on the local level. We’re told by sources close to the deal that the honchos at Rainbow figured snapping up Gothamist’s 10 local sites would fit that bill nicely.
What soured things, we’re told, was Dobkin himself — or, at least, what Dobkin was posting on his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
On February 2, for example, Dobkin produced a screed about the New York Times that still has some folks scratching their heads.
Responding to a seemingly innocent question from Times columnist David Carr about how newspapers were doing transitioning to the web, Dobkin let loose about how the Times was being shown up by websites like his own:
I don’t think a paper that loses millions of dollars a year and funds itself by taking extortionary loans from plutocratic Mexican billionaires can be said to be competing in anything, Metro or otherwise.
My feeling is you only get to congratulate yourself if you produce a great product and make money doing it– you don’t get any points for doing just the first half. And that doesn’t just go for you guys– I don’t think any magazine or newspaper that supports itself by sucking on the teat of some old rich guy (or his heirs!) should be giving anyone else advice.
Specifically in local, I don’t think the Times has had an original idea in years. It’s got a metro staff of what, 60 reporters, and look at all this innovation: Cityroom, which is a fairly lazy and sleep-inducing ripoff of Gothamist, and The Local, a recently closed ripoff of Brownstoner. Five years ago The Times could have bought the best local blogs in New York for a song– instead, they decided they could do it better in-house, and completely surrendered the 20-40 year old demographic to sites like ours.
Dobkin’s complaints struck some of us as completely bizarre. After all, Gothamist had only got where it was by summarizing in bite-size chunks the hard-won reporting by Times writers. Did this guy not realize who was buttering his bread?
As Gawker noted, that point was made even more clear about a month later, on March 9, when Gothamist was practically swallowed by a giant advertisement for the New York Times.
Then, even after the Times showered Gothamist with all that advertising love, Dobkin again bit the hand that feeds him with an utterance on Twitter that, we are told, really confused and angered the folks at Rainbow.
Complaining about a Times profile of web entrepreneur Lockhart Steele as too fluffy, Dobkin wrote that he “didn’t realize that the Times was allowed to feature blowjobs this explicit!”
A few days later, on March 22, news of the possible Gothamist-Rainbow deal leaked, which threw the transaction itself into turmoil. Looking back over Dobkin’s various utterances, his potential new employers, we’re told, wondered if they wanted to get into bed with someone so likely to turn on his benefactors.
We’ve also been able to find out that the $5 to $6 million figure for the deal is in the right ballpark, and, as Nick Denton has pointed out, that isn’t a huge pile of cash for this kind of a deal. For a guy like Dolan, that’s “less than he spends on guitars,” as one wag put it to us. Dolan wasn’t even involved at this level, regardless of what us smart-asses at the Voice might have implied.
We’ve reached out to Jake Dobkin himself via telephone and e-mail, and hope he can weigh in on this. In my previous memo to Runnin’ Scared blogger Foster Kamer, I pointed out that Dobkin has pieced together his own empire that manages to make money and pay employees, and more power to him for doing so (even if, as I said earlier, his website isn’t exactly my cup of tea). I’ve also reached out directly to Rainbow, but their spokeswoman, Georgia Juvelis, hasn’t gotten back to me yet.
I’ll update this if I hear back from either of them.