Monday, February 18, 2008

Not an error but a "minor imprecision"

This is the third of three articles (first, second) on "Atlantic Yards corrections fatigue."

In the annals of "Atlantic Yards corrections fatigue," which I defined as "the disturbing realization that we too often make errors in covering Atlantic Yards," the failure of the New York Times to correct an error published 1/31/08 is a relatively minor matter.

Still, it still provides a window into the thought process of editors who don't take Atlantic Yards seriously enough.

The article, headlined Scaffold Falls, Killing Worker in Brooklyn, concerned an accident at a site in Clinton Hill and offered this context:
It is in a section of Brooklyn that is being swept up in new development, with the huge Atlantic Yards entertainment, residential and commercial complex planned on rail yards a few blocks to the west.

(Emphasis added)

Of course, only 8.5 acres of the 22-acre project would be rail yards, so the distinction is important. If all of Atlantic Yards were to built on public land, there would've been no battle over blight and eminent domain.

As I noted in March 2006, the Times has published multiple versions of this error, and corrected it inconsistently. However, when the Times had a beat reporter assigned to Atlantic Yards, he wrote more precisely that the project "would rise over a railyard and adjacent land...."

The Times responds

On January 31, I emailed Karin Roberts, Assistant to the Metropolitan Editor, with a link to my blog post pointing out the error. I didn't hear back, so on February 9, I wrote to another Times editor.

On February 11, I got this reply from Roberts:
We are not publishing a correction. It was a fleeting reference in an article that had nothing to do with Atlantic Yards, and it was at worst a minor imprecision, not an error. And before you cite chapter and verse of the Times ethics guidelines to me, please be aware that Times editors are trusted to use their best judgment. In mine, no correction is warranted. Thank you for writing.


She was referring to my periodic citation to the seemingly unambiguous 2004 Ethical Journalism handbook, which states:
The Times treats its readers as fairly and openly as possible. In print and online, we tell our readers the complete, unvarnished truth as best we can learn it. It is our policy to correct our errors, large and small, as soon as we become aware of them.


My response

I responded:
I'll agree that it was a fleeting reference in an article that had nothing to do with AY. And I recognize that editors are trusted to use their judgment.

However, I can't agree it was "a minor imprecision;" after all, the Times has previously corrected such an imprecision.


Hierarchies of errors

Interestingly, the Times did publish a correction regarding that January 31 article:
A picture caption in some editions on Thursday with an article about the death of a construction worker, Jose Palacios, who fell 12 stories from a collapsing scaffold in Brooklyn, misstated, in some copies, the relationship between Mr. Palacios and Jasmine Solas, who said he came to the United States from Mexico to find work. He was her uncle, not her cousin.


So, while this was a minor error, it was directly related to the subject of the article.

While the Atlantic Yards error was not directly related to the subject of the article, it was a major imprecision. Why major? Because unlike many other errors and not-minor imprecisions the Times corrects regularly, it has public policy implications.

It should be corrected because people do keyword searches regarding subjects like Atlantic Yards. It's possible that even a fleeting reference--if no correct reference is found elsewhere--will lead the reader astray.

Judgment calls

The Times corrects all kinds of minor errors. I collected a few.

A correction February 12:
An article in some editions on Dec. 18 about a Bronx woman who received financial help through The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund after she was mugged misspelled her surname. She is Laura Pinto, not Pintos. The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, the agency that helped Ms. Pinto, pointed out the error in an e-mail message late last month.


Another correction February 12:
Because of an editing error, an article in The Arts on Thursday about a proposal for an urban farm that was chosen in a competition to transform the courtyard of the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, Queens, for a summer misstated the number of years the annual competition has been held. It is eight years old, not seven.


A fleeting reference

I did a random search of Times corrections that used the word "imprecisely" and found that, yes, most concern references more central to the story than the Atlantic Yards error I found. Then again, sometimes fleeting references are corrected.

A correction February 2:
The On Education column on Jan. 16, about overcrowding at Richmond Hill High School in Queens, described the status of a nearby high school, Franklin K. Lane, incorrectly, and because of an editing error, referred imprecisely to its location. It is scheduled to be phased out over four years; it has not closed. And although Franklin Lane is near the Queens border, it is in Brooklyn, not in Queens.


The article focused almost completely on Richmond Hill High School. Only one sentence referred to Franklin H. Lane:
Just across the border in Brooklyn, Franklin K. Lane is scheduled to be phased out, too.

Those who monitor city schools obviously care where this high school is located, and want the record to be accurate. And those who monitor the city's most controversial development project want the record to reflect that Atlantic Yards, despite the ingenuity of its name, would be built mostly on what was once private property and city streets, not rail yards.

1 comment:

  1. (This is my same comment on the previous, related, post.)

    The developer's web statement prominently says that "THE ATLANTIC YARDS DEVELOPMENT WILL BE BUILT PRIMARILY OVER THE LONG ISLAND RAIL ROAD'S VANDERBILT RAIL YARDS."

    This is inaccurate.

    The inaccuracy bears on many substantial issues critical to equity and proper public decision making.

    The public, press and government should be calling for the developer’s retraction of this statement. The New York Times has not done so. (Nor has Spitzer.)

    The Times Statements in many of its articles ECHO the misstatements by the developer reinforcing the misimpressions the developer is for very important tactical reasons intending to convey.

    One could say that this ECHO sounds like voice of the developer’s PARTNER.

    In point of fact, the New York Times is a PARTNER with the developer in the construction of its new headquarters (for which below-cost land was acquired via little reported eminent domain abuse).

    Decide: Does the voice of the Times sound like: a.) a partner of the developer, or b.) an independent voice attentive to the most important issues in New York City governance?

    ReplyDelete