Saturday, July 25, 2009

The big news was the informational meeting, but the media mostly missed it

While the official required Atlantic Yards public hearing takes place over two days, Wednesday and Thursday, that, I think, will be something of a sideshow, an opportunity for both opponents and proponents to face off and to posture--though some substantive criticism surely will be lodged.

The bigger news, I believe, already happened on Wednesday at the informational meeting before three Community Boards, given the unprecedented presence of both Empire State Development and Forest City Ratner representatives and their responses--both answers and evasions--to tough questions.

And it got relatively little press coverage. None of the three dailies sent a reporter, nor did any TV stations, including NY 1 or local Brooklyn cable.

Focus on conflict

Beyond AYR, which referred in the headline to both disruption and tough questions, two reports chose the conflict as the main frame. Both the Brooklyn Paper and New York Times blog The Local produced reports with a reasonable amount of range, but the respective headlines were Atlantic antics! Yards hearing goes haywire! and Atlantic Yards Meeting Erupts.

Neither followed up, as I did, to show the orchestration of the disruption.

The meeting ended too late to make the print deadlines for the Brooklyn Paper and the Courier-Life chain; the former did put up a prominent web story the next morning, while the latter does not typically post web stories promptly. Expect coverage of some sort next week in the Courier-Life as well as the Brooklyn Downtown Star.

Difficulty of public review

The New York Observer's online piece was headlined Public Review of Atlantic Yards, Without the 'View' Part--which deftly sketched the contradiction between having a public hearing without any site plan or images:
This isn’t to say that developers intended to do a bait and switch from the start—Forest City did pay Mr. Gehry to do advanced designs—but when project economics change, developers look to alter things they have the power to change, and there is no mechanism to ensure a project looks like its rendering.

Worthy observations, but there was much more to analyze.

"Be the Journalist"

The Times enlisted a citizen journalist--in this case, a pro, former Brooklyn Paper reporter Jessica Wisloski, working for free--recruited under the rubric Be the Journalist: Atlantic Yards Update.

Could you imagine "Be the Journalist--National Health Insurance Update"?

I shouldn't be so hard on The Local--at least they covered it. 

But the dailies, as well as the Village Voice and others who've paid attention to Atlantic Yards, missed an important story about governmental responsibility and public review of major development projects--a story with a number of potential mini-headlines, such as the unavailability of a cost-benefit analysis or arena renderings, or the ESDC's unwillingness to comment on a New York City Independent Budget Office analysis that the arena would be a money-loser for the city.

It's a story not merely of neighborhood and borough interest, but given the city and state subsidies involved, of interest to the city and state, and--given the heat and complexity of the controversy, as well as the controversy over building sports facilities--of national interest. 

Atlantic Yards opponents, who generally alert the media ahead of public hearings and meetings, could have done a better job of soliciting coverage. But the media should be able to figure things out themselves, as well.

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