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New York Times Public Editor says goodbye without a word about Atlantic Yards/Forest City, offers dubious praise for corrections desk

New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane says goodbye after two years without a word about Atlantic Yards and Forest City Ratner, despite ample opportunity to weigh in on such basic things as whether and how the Times should disclose its business relationship to Forest City, or even the glaring decision to devote such Sports section real estate to photos of Brooklyn Nets advertising.

From his column in tomorrow's paper, Success and Risk as The Times Transforms:
Two years ago, when I wrote my “why on earth” column, I suggested that the pace of change called for a re-emphasis on “transparency, accountability, humility.” Looking back now, I think The Times could do better with these.

The Times is hardly transparent. A reader still has to work very hard to find any Times policies online (though some are tucked away there), and there is still no place where Times editors speak on the issues. As for humility, well, The Times is Lake Wobegon on steroids (everybody’s way above average). I don’t remember many autopsies in which, as we assembled over the body, anyone conceded that maybe this could have been done differently.

The strong suit, though, is the corrections desk, led by Greg Brock, where thousands of errors are somehow adjudicated every year. This is a powerful engine of accountability, unmatched by any other corrections operation I have seen, and a potential foundation element for a portal where The Times could prominently display “transparency, accountability, humility.”
A failure of accountability

Actually, errors aren't always adjudicated well, nor does Brock display “transparency, accountability, humility.”

He's actually kind of a dyspeptic character when challenged, not only by me but by, for example Brad Friedman of The Brad Blog (re ACORN/pimp coverage).

Consider three examples:
  • the Times quietly replaced a misleading Atlantic Yards graphic, without acknowledging a correction
  • though Brock admitted it was not precise--a trigger for a Times correction--the Times wouldn't correct a report that the Bloomberg administration had "built" more than 130,000 affordable housing units
  • the Times wouldn't correct a misleading (if precisely quoted) report that the arena was a month ahead of schedule
These may not seem like major errors. But they are not insignificant, and the failure to correct them not only violates the Times's own policy, it makes it more likely that the errors will creep into future reports, and in work citing the Times.

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