Saturday, July 09, 2011

The BAM-arena alliance, illegal parking, and construction progress: the role of p.r. in controlling the narrative

A week ago, Battle for Brooklyn filmmaker Michael Galinsky wrote, in reference to the Brooklyn Academy of Music's alliance with the Barclays Center arena,Don’t Let Atlantic Yards Developers Control the Narrative.

In that case, Forest City Ratner placed an exclusive with the New York Times, which decided it deserved front-page placement in the Arts section, then issued a press release claiming that BAM and the arena constitute a new cultural district.

That was a sign Forest City Ratner's spending on public relations paid off, as they turned a questionable story--was such a vague, limited plan worth such prominence, or just a blurb?--into bigger news.

Similarly, Forest City's "exclusive" offer to NY1 to observe construction progress represents the power of p.r.

Complicating the narrative

However, as the first article in the screenshot below shows, the developer can't always control the narrative.



The establishment of the web site/project Atlantic Yards Watch, the presence of web sites chronicling Atlantic Yards like No Land Grab and AYR, and the opportunity to present photos and web videos means that the mainstream press should notice what's going on.

They don't always do that, but, after the Daily News published an article yesterday, two television reporters were quick to follow up. It was a fairly digestible story, with lots of visuals.

What's missing?

There's lots more not yet covered regarding Atlantic Yards.

For example, what about Forest City Ratner's failure to hire an Independent Compliance Monitor?

Or Borough President Marty Markowitz's lies in the effort to help Forest City Ratner raise cheap capital from immigrant investors interested in green cards?

Reporters overmatched?

Sure, it's hard out there for a reporter. “We’re all wire service reporters now," Theresa Agovino of Crain’s New York Business said in December 2009, according to the September/October 2010 issue of Columbia Journalism Review, a reference to the push for quantity over quality.

They too often don't have time to think, and that makes them vulnerable not just to p.r. pitches--that's part of the journalistic menu--but also the full packaging of the pitch. (Quick, did anyone actually analyze Forest City Enterprises' self-serving press release about saving on its debts? No.)

Shaping the debate

John Sullivan, in his ProPublica investigation and co-published in the May/June 2011 issue of Columbia Journalism Review, PR Industry Fills Vacuum Left by Shrinking Newsrooms, pointed toi the growing number of p.r. people and shrinking number of reporters, writing:
The dangers are clear. As PR becomes ascendant, private and government interests become more able to generate, filter, distort, and dominate the public debate, and to do so without the public knowing it. "What we are seeing now is the demise of journalism at the same time we have an increasing level of public relations and propaganda," [Robert] McChesney said. "We are entering a zone that has never been seen before in this country." 
That said, with Atlantic Yards, there are numerous leads to follow that are not hatched with the cooperation of "dark genius" Joe DePlasco. It's time for journalists to do their job. Or not.

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