As if he couldn’t bear to type the words, the editor, publisher, and cofounder of Gapers Block—Andrew Huff—all but said flat-out Friday that his 12-year-old website is shutting down. It goes on “hiatus” on January 1, allowed Huff in his statement. The site won’t go dark that day, but across the masthead a black banner will offer this message:
“As of January 1, 2016, Gapers Block is on indefinite hiatus. The site will remain up in archive form while we evaluate our options, which may include a redesign or sale. Thank you for your readership and contributions over the past 12-plus years.”
Huff offered no reason to hope the “hiatus” will ever end. “Staffers may be able to post last little bits for a couple of days after the 1st,” Huff went on, “but I hope that all activity ceases by Jan. 7. I’ll keep funding hosting for the site for the forseeable future, so the articles will remain online.”
Huff and Naz Hamid launched Gapers Block, a mix of news, sports, and cultural items, in 2003. For the past three years Reader readers have voted it the city’s best local blog. In theory, the site’s been written by a mix of staffers and volunteers; in truth, said Huff, “I write more than anyone else on the staff, usually by a huge margin.” He’d hired Mike Ewing over the summer “to take over day-to-day posting duties for me,” but he ran out of money to pay Ewing, who landed another job.
Actually, said Huff, he’d been feeling trapped at Gapers Block for years, but couldn’t bring himself to walk away from it. The thing is, “lots of people, at foundations and at large, told me that GB was super important and should be saved, but they all seemed to expect me to continue to run it, to be centrally involved.”
And he’s finally said enough. “That’s the one thing that has to change, no matter what the site’s future is,” Huff declared. He offered no reason for the Gapers Block audience to expect it to have any future at all, or to mourn the lack of one. Its journalistic model and its technology are both out-of-date, he said, and while a “new version of GB” might be in the cards, he doubts it.
“A small part of the decision to put the site on hiatus is to force the hand of the people who say they want to help it survive,” Huff declared. “You want to help, great. But a plan that ‘saves’ the site only so it continues on as it is now is not salvation.”
Among founders of grassroots digital news sites, Huff’s despair is a familiar progression.