Monday, February 26, 2007

A grudging Times correction on "city approval" and another taking more blame than Barclays

Why did it take six days for the New York Times to grudgingly correct a basic error in a 2/20/07 Metro Brief about Atlantic Yards, especially since the Times in December published essentially the same correction?

The brief stated:
The city and state approved the project despite heated opposition from residents...

The correction today, under the For the Record rubric (where basic errors are corrected), states:
A report in the Metro Briefing column on Tuesday about the construction work expected to begin at the Atlantic Yards project near downtown Brooklyn referred imprecisely to the development. Although it has been endorsed by the Bloomberg administration and the City Planning Commission, it is a state project that does not require formal city approval.
(Emphasis added)

That wasn't imprecise but simply incorrect.

Why would a reporter insert this extraneous fact in a new story? Well, people make mistakes; let's assume that the reporter, unfamiliar with Atlantic Yards, simply assumed that the city had approved the project. (The one Times reporter who built up some continuity on the Atlantic Yards beat got promoted to Albany this year after less than 15 months in Brooklyn.)

The problem with such errors is that the Times is supposed to be the Paper of Record, and both NY1 and WNYC repeated the error, as NoLandGrab pointed out.

Why take so long?

The Times frequently publishes corrections the next day after the error appeared. The delay in this case seems indefensible, because a similar correction was published less than two months ago, regarding an item in the Magazine:
An item in the Year in Ideas issue on Dec. 10 about the increasing scale and size of urban planning referred imprecisely to the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. The New York City Planning Commission endorsed it but did not approve it; final approval can be given only by state officials.

It wasn't as if research needed to be done. So was the delay the consequence of bureaucratic incompetence or could it even be... spite in response to persistent criticism?

The Barclays correction

Under the rubric of Corrections, where more serious errors are corrected, the Times today tells us:
Because of an editing error, an article on Feb. 2 about a controversy over a naming agreement with Barclays, the British bank, for the basketball arena that is part of the planned Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn misstated Barclays’ response to accusations by several black politicians that the company had cooperated with the apartheid regime in South Africa. Barclays says it withdrew from the country in 1986, which it considers to be eight years before the end of apartheid; the company did not say it withdrew six years before the end. (Apartheid was dismantled over several years beginning in 1990, but there is no generally agreed-upon date for the official “end” of apartheid.)

First, it shouldn't have taken more than three weeks to correct the time period from six years to eight years, given that the Barclays claim was made public in several venues.

More importantly, the larger error does not concern the Times's misstatement of Barclays' time frame. Rather, it concerns the newspaper's initial implicit acceptance of the company's contention that apartheid ended in 1994. That parenthetical about the dismantling of apartheid should have been in the initial story, and the Times should be apologizing for that more than its shift to six years from eight years.

Yes, I wrote about all this on 2/3/07.

Atlantic Yards corrections fatigue


Footnote: last night I contacted a Times editor about correcting the Times's misleading and irresponsible editing of the Associated Press story on the eminent domain lawsuit. The response was not to acknowledge any fault in disserving readers; rather, I was told to take it up with the AP.

Perhaps that notably unsympathetic response was brought on by "Atlantic Yards corrections fatigue," which I'll define as "the disturbing realization that we too often make errors in covering Atlantic Yards."

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