Saturday, June 06, 2009

Oversight hearing coverage in the weeklies: underplayed in the Brooklyn Paper, predictably mangled in the Courier-Life

Yes, things have changed in Brooklyn weekly journalism since Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation took over the Brooklyn Paper. 

I'm sure editor Gersh Kuntzman will find a way to defend decisionmaking--after all, the story was a week late--but the Brooklyn Paper, once known for aggressive coverage of things Atlantic Yards, gave too little attention to the state Senate oversight hearing on May 29.

Remember, this is the newspaper that made a huge deal about the historical connections of Barclays Capital, which bought naming rights to the Atlantic Yards arena, to slavery.

Now we have an oversight hearing hijacked by groups supported by or orchestrated by Forest City Ratner--an event that led one onlooker to describe it to me as "something out of Weimar Germany" --and the Brooklyn Paper puts the article on page 5 and (see below) gives the same space to a meaningless challenge to Borough President Marty Markowitz from a Republican who thinks the Beep doesn't defend Atlantic Yards enough (see below).

Instead, a "fun" feature attempting to plumb the difference, book-wise, between Park Slope and Prospect Heights makes the front page.

And the Brooklyn Paper, rather than editorializing about the shameful behavior of protesters or the deceptions by government officials, chose to opine about the Fulton Street BID.

(Click on graphics to enlarge.)

Creditable coverage

That said, the Brooklyn Paper's report was creditable, if relatively brief, while the sister Courier-Life chain's article, as noted below, was predictably obtuse.

The Brooklyn Paper article, headlined LIRR chief: Sweeter MTA deal for Ratner could get Yards back on track, got the gist:
Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner is poised to receive new, generous terms from the MTA that supporters say could jumpstart his stalled mega-project even as a new report revealed that the city would actually lose money on the basketball arena at the heart of the $4-billion housing and office complex.

And the newspaper noted the curious behavior at the hearing:
No one from Forest City Ratner appeared at the hearing, the Senate’s first investigation into the 22-acre development.

The company’s presence was felt in the form of 200 or so construction workers (and would-be construction workers) who showed their support — punctuated by frequently shouting down their opponents.


In the Courier-Life

The Courier-Life article, by the redoubtably pro-project Stephen Witt, focused on the MTA land sale. It curiously omitted any mention of testimony by the Independent Budget Office's George Sweeting, who estimated that the arena, once predicted to supply a modest boost in tax revenues for the city, would instead be a loss.

The article misidentified the 8.5-acre MTA railyard as 11 acres. And it stated that Forest City has been "winning lawsuit after lawsuit," which is incorrect; the developer, for example, was not party to the state eminent domain lawsuit, which was filed against the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

And there was a nice unattributed quote from an ESDC spokesperson: "We can all agree having the project stalled doesn't help anybody, especially when this project can bring forth jobs to residents of Brooklyn."

Helping anybody? Unmentioned is that the major beneficiary would be Forest City Ratner.

And what happened?

The article gave one acknowledgment, in the third-to-last paragraph to the disarray at the hearing:
The developments follow a recent raucous Senate hearing on the project last week at Pratt Institute, in which hundreds of community and union members repeatedly interrupted the proceeding with catcalls and demands that it's time to start the project.

Unmentioned: that's behavior for a political rally, not an oversight hearing.

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