Sunday, April 08, 2012

A note from Stephen Witt (but not on AY): "I will be vigilant to be watchful against my own tendencies to have personal axes [to] grind"

Readers of this blog know that I have had my differences with the notorious Stephen Witt, known for his irresponsible coverage of Atlantic Yards and, perhaps, a novel based on the Atlantic Yards saga.

Well, others have questioned his credibility. Consider a front-page apology March 8 from David Mark Greaves, publisher of the Bed-Stuy-based Our Time Press, where Witt now works as a Senior Editor:
In last week’s issue of Our Time Press, editor Stephen Witt allowed his emotions to distort his reporting and what resulted were unfair, baseless and unwarranted attacks on the Vannguard Independent Democratic Association...
To further the damage I, who had the responsibility to read the column beyond the headline, did not do my job, and as a result it went out unedited and unproofed, full of errors and rancorous opinion.
The publishers have made Mr. Witt fully aware of the disaster this is... Both Mr. Witt and I deeply apologize for the complete lack of professionalism in allowing that material to appear in the paper.
Witt, who also writes columns, has the right to write opinion--and his problematic report is now labeled "Opinion." The problem is when the opinion is based on little evidence. Witt wrote apologetically:
Henceforth, I will be vigilant to be watchful against my own tendencies to have personal axes [to] grind.
On OTP

Our Time Press plays an important role in coverage (and voices from) a large central Brooklyn community vastly underserved by the media. So Witt has had the opportunity to do some useful work, at least when he's not grinding axes or rhapsodizing about Jay-Z.

The newspaper published Errol Louis's "Commerce and Community" column for years, featuring Louis's Atlantic Yards cheerleading (and dissing of opponents as "antibuilders"), but has long been open to Letters to the Editor in response. Writer Mary Alice Miller, as well as co-founder Bernice Elizabeth Green have looked critically at the project.

The AY apology?

Note that no such apology about Witt's reporting ever came from the editors of the Courier-Life chain, which had a larger budget and presumably (but perhaps not) more opportunity for editing.

There Witt covered Atlantic Yards by finding bizarre angles such as letting project supporters claim that project foes were the "real land grabbers" because they moved into former industrial buildings that had been closed and then renovated.

Witt's coverage was not merely harmless fringe commentary. One Witt article, because it appeared in a presumably reputable newspaper but also served the state's interests, was cited in the Atlantic Yards Blight Study. It was the only article to be cited in the study, though others would have provided evidence against the notion blight was increasing.

In the Witt article, a leader of BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development), a signatory of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement, criticized project opponents Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, whose spokesman lived on Pacific Street, for not helping with the homeless problem that added to "blight" within the proposed project footprint:
“How can you live right across the street from that and don’t try to address it with all the meetings they [DDDB] have had,” said Caldwell. “Even the local politicians ignored it. They couldn’t have helped but seen it.” 
Witt has criticized me for writing "lavishingly of [Council Member Letitia] James and continually criticiz[ing] any community supporters of the project." I disagreed.


From the March 8 issue of OTP [click on graphics to enlarge]



From the March 1 issue of OTP


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