Thursday, July 12, 2007

Would AY be finished by 2015? The Times resists a correction

Would the Atlantic Yards project be finished by 2015, rather than the officially projected 2016 or a more-likely later date? That's what a reader could conclude after reading the 7/1/07 New York Times Metro section article headlined (online) Official Sees Possible Risk in Big Project in Brooklyn.

One paragraph in the article stated:
The project’s 16 towers are scheduled to open in several increments, beginning in July 2009 with the completion of the signature tower, known as Miss Brooklyn, at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, and concluding in April 2015 with a condo tower at Dean Street and Carlton Avenue.

Evidence to the contrary

As I pointed out in a correction request copied to two Times editors and two reporters, that may be the schedule according to one of the documents examined among those released to Assemblyman Jim Brennan and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery after they sued the Empire State Development Corporation. However, the project has long been described as concluding in 2016, under the best-case scenario.

The FAQ on the official Atlantic Yards web site states:
Q: What is the expected timeline for construction?
A: After the EIS is complete, and assuming the project receives the needed public approvals, FCRC anticipates breaking ground in late 2007 on the arena and at least two residential buildings. The construction will be phased over 10 years.


Also, the construction schedule that is part of the state's Final Environmental Impact Statement has three buildings going up in 2016.

Times response

I got the following response from reporter Nicholas Confessore:
The story in question makes clear that we are referring to a specific set of documents and to dates contained in those documents. The documents we relied on cite the dates in question, and our entire story is an extrapolation and analysis of those documents. Before diving into the details, we make clear that the documents “represent only one snapshot of an ever-evolving, much-delayed project.”

Thank you for the URL citations. You may rest assured, however, that Andy [Newman] and I are aware of Forest City’s current projections. Of course, no really knows with certainty when or if this project will be completed, a point I believe you have hit upon in your own writing.

You may consider this your official response from Karin Roberts, Greg Brock, Andy Newman, and myself.


My response

I wrote back to Confessore, in part:
Of course no one knows for certain. But if the official projections from the developer and the state say 2016, I think readers are disserved if not informed of that, especially given the declarative phrasing of the sentence at issue.

A closer look

In the 41-paragraph article, Paragraph 16 did explain that the documents represent only one snapshot of an ever-evolving, much-delayed project that still faces several lawsuits and has yet to begin rising in Brooklyn.
(Emphases added)

Paragraphs 17 through 21 each mentioned the documents as a source. In Paragraph 22, the Times again acknowledged that the plans were conditional:
Forest City itself would earn a development fee of 5 percent of the project’s total cost: roughly $200 million if the entire project is built as planned.


Paragraph 23 referred to the company’s assessment of Brooklyn’s residential market and the project’s construction costs.

However, Paragraph 24--cited at the top of this article--lacked any conditionality. As noted, it was declarative: The project’s 16 towers are scheduled to open in several increments... concluding in April 2015...

Given the official schedule of a 2016 completion date, and the doubts about that timetable expressed by project advocates like Chuck Ratner of parent Forest City Enterprises and project landscape architect Laurie Olin, the Times should have associated the 2015 date with the documents and added some skepticism.

"Excessive shorthand"

Though the error, in a sense, supports Forest City Ratner's optimistic timetable rather than a more skeptical view, I assume sloppiness, not nefariousness, on the part of the Times left readers with a misleading impression.

A correction is in order, especially given the Times's obligation to exactingly cover Forest City Ratner, business partner with the parent New York Times Company on the new Times Tower.

The Times's Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, in his 7/8/07 column, quoted the paper's foreign editor as acknowledging that the Times had been sloppy and used "excessive shorthand" in some instances while referring to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. This case is not dissimilar.

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