What does it mean to truly know your city? While tourists often have one view of each major city, the locals have quite another. Paris is much more than the Eiffel Tower, Brazil much more than a chance to attend the Carnival in Rio, and The Big Apple—New York City—is much more than the dancing lights of Times Square, The Empire State Building or The Statue of Liberty.
We all somewhat know this to be true. When we travel, we feel the urge to fall off the beaten path, discover the ‘local life,’ and stumble into a new and unknown world—to find pulse of the city.
If you’re ‘not from around here’ though, how do you find the pulse? The locals, of course.
Gothamist is a daily website covering New York City’s personalities, news stories, and media with humorous photos and running commentary—they’ve got their finger on the true pulse of the city.
We spoke to Jake Dobkin, Publisher and Co-founder of Gothamist, and just about the best definition of a true New Yorker you can find. Born, raised, educated and professionalized in Brooklyn, Dobkin has grown Gothamist from a blog and side-project to one of the most culturally influentially publications in the city.
Gothamist recently renewed their partnership with Taboola, and we had the opportunity to speak with Dobkin about his journey—where he is today, how he got there, and the challenges he’s faced in the digital sphere. Here’s what he had to say.
“I just love this city—I’m fascinated by it and I don’t think I’ll ever leave. I was born in New York in Park Slope. My career with Gothamist started 15 years ago when I was working for an agency that built luxury websites for brands like Tiffany’s and Barneys. When the dot-com boom happened, we went out of business.
After my agency went under, I discovered photo blogging, where my friends would comment on my photos. Eventually, I got so into blogging that I started a separate blog—and that actually became Gothamist.
In those days, we were all downtown in what’s now known as SoHo—in that area was also Nick Denton from Gawker, Jonah Peretti from Buzzfeed, and Lockhart Steele, of Curbed and later, Vox, all in this one square mile neighborhood. We created a sort-of early blogging culture. It was a slow evolution from 2003 to 2007, but by then it was a real business with an office, employees, continuing to grow each year. Just recently, we were acquired by DNAinfo, a great neighborhood site based in NYC and Chicago.”
If you could do anything else besides work for Gothamist, what would it be?
“I think of Gothamist as a real civic good—it contributes to the health of our local democracy by informing people and entertaining them. If I did anything other than this, I’d hope it would be something positive or progressive. Maybe working for non-profit, or working for the local government to try to improve the processes there. Or maybe another startup trying to do some good.”
What’s your favorite hobby? Does it impact your day-to-day?
“My favorite hobby is definitely photography. I started off as a photo blogger, and still take assignments from Gothamist from time to time.
When I was in my 20s, I shot almost every day in the city. I’m really into the architectural structure of buildings—and I would look for both interesting buildings and graffiti. I can’t think of anything else that’s impacted my day-to-day as much as my camera.”
How do you see the reader’s perception of Gothamist today?
“We always try to strive for being that really cool, clued-in, street-smart friend that knows everything about the city, and loves the city, but also appreciates its flaws.
We’re just like a true New Yorker—really authentic. The writers we employ live in the cities that they cover, and find those stories.
My favorite part about Gothamist is the more offbeat stuff —strange food, cultural pieces and the funnier, more uplifting news. You don’t have to think about national news for however long you’re reading our site. I appreciate the localness of it.”
What are some of the biggest changes in digital, social and content you’ve experienced in your career?
“With local content, you always experience more challenges in the digital realm because you’re targeting a smaller audience. We’re limited not only by the number of people who live in the cities we cover but by the number of young people that live in those cities—our true target audience.
It’s been hard to find a solution to this, but I’ve always found that good local news works—it’s the local flavor that really gives us our digital niche.”
A big topic of discussion for publishers today is AI. How do you feel it will change readership on the open web?
“Local will be like the last to get that technology. It’s not the same as financial coverage or even coverage of a particular beat—there is no easy automation. It’s hard for a computer to really understand what a city is. I think it will impact us in other ways, in advertising or stats or operations, but artificial intelligence won’t be writing our articles any time soon.”
Tell us a little bit about your relationship with Taboola.
“We’ve been working together for about three years, and use Taboola for paid and internal circulation. Taboola lets us target our highest value users—direct traffic and email traffic. They see only internal recirculation units.
For Gothamist’s audience, we have to keep it pretty fresh. We can only show them stories the last week, and maybe the few evergreen posts. Taboola helps us recirculate effectively, and programmatically. Now, our readers will also see video, which is something we’re excited about.”
Finally, If you could take one vacation with unlimited resources, where would you go and what would you do?
I love New York City, but I seem to be one of the few New Yorkers who also really enjoys spending time in Los Angeles, where I have family and Gothamist has a great local site called LAist.com—I go out there for a few weeks each year. From LA you can get to all these great national parks, which is something I really enjoy. I did a lot of travelling when I was younger, and I think I got the urge for big overseas trips out of my system. Now that I have kids, the main thing is just spending time with them, so I’d probably just keep doing what I’m doing now.
Gothamist has been a Taboola partner for three years and recently renewed their contract with Taboola this year.
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