Friday, May 08, 2009

AYR dissed by Brian Lehrer, who misses the point

A Brian Lehrer Show segment yesterday, held a day after Congress held hearings regarding the topic, concerned The Future of Newspapers and featured some top journalists and authors. The Atlantic Yards segment came at about 20:57.



Prospect Heights resident and activist Raul Rothblatt, aka "Raul in Brooklyn," was on the line.

RR: One I think very exciting model is happening right here in Brooklyn, it's getting international notice, is the blogging and citizen reporting regarding the Atlantic Yards. And we have reporters, local bloggers, going to City Council hearings when the New York Times and all the local papers are not.

Well, I haven't been to many City Council hearings, but I have covered numerous events and court hearings that others have either ignored or treated cursorily.

BL: And are you talking about journalists or are you talking about residents of the community who are against Atlantic Yards and go to the hearings and then blog?

RR: Well, It's a thin line sometimes. Some people have really become, like Norman Oder of the Atlantic Yards Report is really of a tremendous professional quality. And a lot of it is citizens going to meetings. But there's so much of it that there tends to be a real dialogue, a really good way for people to keep each other honest.

It's not that thin a line. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I'm critical of the project but I evaluate what I hear. Anyone can compare my reporting to the transcript or video of the event at hand. My goal is not dialogue but information and accountability, the "journalism of verification," to quote New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller.

Do we need blogs that are less critical of Atlantic Yards? Well, newspapers have managed to fill that role.

Both sides now

BL: On both sides, do you think, do people go to Norman Oder's site, which is, y'know, pitched primarily [fixed 5/9] anti-Atlantic Yards Project and have a discussion on both sides? Or is it just an echo chamber of the like-minded?

Lehrer seems to be confusing my blog with a talk show. My goal is to explain to people what's going on, and to look into questions of civic importance. 

Let's take a look at yesterday's post, on the mysterious announcement of utility work on Pacific Street. If looked at through Lehrer's formulation, one side means that the Empire State Development Corporation should be required to answer questions about what's in the Construction Updates it issued. 

The other side? They shouldn't have to answer. Sorry for not emphasizing that enough.

RR: Honestly, I know you don't really want to hear this, there isn't, in my neighborhood, supporters of the project. And Norman Oder would not say that he's an anti-Atlantic Yards reporter, he would say he's critical of the project.

Sure, there are some supporters; Rothblatt later told me he would have liked to have been more nuanced. 

But Lehrer should recognize that it's not exactly a level landscape. Both the city and state back a project by Brooklyn's most powerful developer. None of the three have a strong interest in transparency. Remember, the current cost of the project is a "trade secret," even though it was revealed in public documents in 2006.

Thin line?

BL: Raul, I'm going to leave it there and get some reaction. Paul Starr, when you look at the role of journalism in our democracy, is the model that Raul is laying out a significant change? He referred to a thinner line between the activist resident and something defined as the journalist.

(Paul Starr is professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University and author of a essays suggesting the loss of newspapers will leave us with much less reporting.)

PS: What he's describing in Brooklyn is great, it's terrific, there should be more of it. I think there's a high concentration of very educated people there, who are following that issue. The trouble is, in many other parts of the country, they don't have those resources, they don't have that capacity. We need an independent press that is financed some other way. It's great when we have citizen journalists to supplement that, but I don't think we can rely on that alone.

Starr was essentially echoing my point that the response to Atlantic Yards, including my journalism and the pointed portal NoLandGrab, is a somewhat unusual phenomenon, not duplicated, for example, in the case of the Yankee Stadium controversy.

There may be a thinner line between activism and journalism as more people--especially ones with no track record in journalism-- start writing blogs. But our work is public and can be checked. Lehrer should balance his apparent worry with the recognition that independent online journalism can help get things right, as well.


(NoLandGrab's Lumi Rolley adds: Keep in mind, NoLandGrab has always linked to media in support of the project. Except for the local daily newspapers, most of it has just faded away. Heck, even Bruce Ratner himself had to downsize the company's web presence, presumably due to cut costs.)

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