Friday, October 30, 2009

The Voice's Robbins: thin press means little scrutiny of Bloomberg (and what about AY?)

Village Voice columnist Tom Robbins, in a piece headlined The Mayor's Press Pass, provides some context about Mayor Mike Bloomberg and, I'd suggest, Atlantic Yards:
One reason for the remarkably charmed life of Mike Bloomberg's administration as he sails toward re-election has been the waning of the city's news business.... When this city enjoyed four fat daily newspapers, editors clamored for strong, tough copy to fill them.

...These days, the papers are onion-skin thin, and exposés are catch as catch can. Newsday, which once gave rival editors panic attacks every morning, doesn't even have a city edition anymore... Nowadays, to fill their meager space, editors prefer colorful yarns to investigations. Until this month, one newspaper carried an entire column about empty rooms. We have the Web, with all of its many hardworking blogs, but most of these spend their energies keeping political scorecards with all the obsession of fantasy baseball addicts: Who's on first, and what coaches are in the dugout? The business of government and its many failings goes largely unexamined.
Yes, largely unexamined, but Robbins at least could have noticed the Atlantic Yards issue, which has generated an enormous amount of homegrown media in response. And he might have mentioned a notably obtuse Voice cover story last month, which proclaimed How New York City's Seven Newspapers Are (Nearly) Surviving.

Multiple examples

Robbins offers several examples of press inattention:
  • Brooklyn Assemblyman Jim Brennan's reports on mayoral control of schools
  • the Daily News's Juan González's report that "the mayor's billion-dollar plan to relocate the city's emergency 911 call system has become a fiasco"
  • the Voice's report on a scandal at the city's NYC-TV operation
  • the mayor's praise for the Stuyvesant Town sale, ignored (well, not initially) in coverage of "the stunning court ruling on the illegal Stuyvesant Town rent hikes"
I'll suggest some other un-covered or undercovered stories:
  • the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) new concessions to Forest City Ratner upon re-approving Atlantic Yards in September
  • Forest City Ratner's bailout of ACORN
  • New York University's questionable absorption of Polytechnic University
The issue: "critical mass"

Robbins offers a general observation:
It's not that there's no investigative spadework being done. What's missing is critical mass.
Indeed, that's true on both a citywide and boroughwide basis.

In the pre-Murdoch days, the Brooklyn Paper would amplify most bits of critical news about Atlantic Yards. Now, the shorthanded Paper's prolific editor, Gersh Kuntzman, spends a good deal of energy writing about food, and couldn't get a staffer--or even a stringer--to attend that the ESDC board meeting in September.

The Post and the Brooklyn Paper

But there is progress: the Brooklyn Paper will now be an insert in selected editions of the New York Post. "[P]erfect together," proclaims the Paper.

Remember, Kuntzman told Gothamist on 2/11/08, "Brooklyn needs us too much right now, what with local papers being snapped up by billionaire moguls who have no interest in local news except maximizing classified ad sales. Has Rupert Murdoch even BEEN to Brooklyn?"

Stern's lament

Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, writing under the rubric of his New York Civic (which has mostly steered clear of AY, given Stern's ties to Bruce Ratner, whose company contributes to the organization), observes of Robbins's column:
The irony here is that, because of the very condition Robbins laments, his article is unlikely to gain traction and will shortly disappear from public attention.
But Stern knows it's worthwhile:
The strength of a democracy is based in part on how much its citizens know.

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