Friday, November 10, 2006

More carelessness from the Times: three mistakes, one sentence

[scroll down for update]

An article in the 11/5/06 New York Times Real Estate section about a development in Yonkers contained an aside about Atlantic Yards, and that one sentence contained three errors.

The article, headlined Reclaiming a River, and a Downtown, began:
In the first phase of a stunningly ambitious $3.6 billion plan intended to transform swaths of this dated industrial city into a sleek metropolis, developers plan to undertake four million square feet of new construction in the next three years. After razing sections of the downtown, they plan to build stores, condominiums, a minor league baseball park, parking garages and a movie theater.

The final paragraph attempted to give some context:
The project in Yonkers is almost as large as the development proposed for the Atlantic Yards in downtown Brooklyn, which has been described as the biggest project in that borough’s history and is one of the biggest ever in New York City.

First, "almost as large" is incorrect if we consider the common meaning of size: square footage. The Atlantic Yards project would have about 8 million square feet. (The costs would be closer: $3.6 billion vs. $4.2 billion.)

Second, there's no such place as "the Atlantic Yards." The name "Atlantic Yards" is a brand; the project, as the Times well knows, would be built over and around the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt yard, which would make up about 38 percent of the 22-acre site.

Third, the project would not be built in "downtown Brooklyn" but near it, as multiple Times corrections have made clear.

Any newspaper with such an enormous volume of stories as the Times will contain an inevitable amount of mistakes. However, a newspaper like the Times should avoid making the same mistakes, even if the articles are being published in the Real Estate section, or the Sports section, rather than the Metro section. And when the topic involves a project being built by the parent company's business partner, the Times, as I've argued, has an obligation to be exacting in its coverage.

The correction

The Times published a correction on 11/12/06:
The “In the Region” article in Westchester, Connecticut and Manhattan copies last Sunday, about the first phase of a $3.6 billion plan to redevelop sections of Yonkers, referred incorrectly to a major project being proposed for Brooklyn. The Atlantic Yards project is near downtown Brooklyn, not in it.

That's mistake #3. The Times was not, I suspect, going to give ground on mistake #2, the common error of assuming "the Atlantic Yards" is a place.

As for mistake #1, the issue is ambiguous. The Times in February described size in terms of funding:
Indeed, the cost of the proposal here is almost as large as the plan for the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, which has been described as the biggest project in the borough's history and the third-biggest ever in New York City.

It looks like the most recent reference was just an awkward rewrite of that. But size is more commonly described in terms of square footage. Phase 1 of the Yonkers project (right) would be 4 million square feet, so it's possible that future phases bring the project closer to the 8 million square feet proposed for AY, or even well above it, but the Times didn't say.

I did a check and found that the Yonkers project would encompass 450 acres, versus 22 acres for the Atlantic Yards project. If so, some context was missing; the Yonkers project undoubtedly would be much less dense than Atlantic Yards.

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