Saturday, September 29, 2012

An open letter to the New York Times Public Editor: Why not retain both versions of Barclays Center opening coverage? (The changes were dramatic and dismissive)

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

On 9/13/12, in examining fast-moving Times coverage of Mitt Romney, in which the content shifted dramatically, you declared Both Versions of Romney Critique Should Have Remained on Web. You pointed to NewsDiffs, a tool cited by your predecessor Arthur Brisbane, that tracks changes in articles.

I believe you should come to the same judgment regarding the Times's coverage today of the opening of the Barclays Center arena, For Brooklyn’s New Arena, Day 1 Brings Hip-Hop Fans and Protests.

As the NewsDiffs page devoted to the article indicates, the article changed dramatically beginning at 8:53 pm last night.

As initially posted, the article focused on a press conference held by arena critics, later augmented by some "man in the street" counter-testimony in favor of the arena.

Ultimately, much of the press conference was overwritten in favor of description of the arena's debut event. It's understandable that the article would morph to emphasize the details of the Jay-Z concert opening promoted on the front page.

But not only was the main message of the press conference lost, the tone of the article changed.

Serious charges

For example, the original article stated:
The M.C. was Candace Carponter, a spokeswoman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, one of the groups representing residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. She called the arena “a monument to crony capitalism,” saying that “the vast majority of Brooklyn will not benefit” from the 22-acre, $4.9 billion project, which includes the arena and more than a dozen housing towers. She said that a commercial tower that was supposed to deliver the thousands of promised jobs had not been built and that only a few full-time jobs would result from the arena itself.
“Ratner has not fulfilled any of his promises, not a single one,” she said.
Kathleen Noriega told the assembled protesters that she once had been a supporter of Mr. Ratner’s project because he had promised hundreds of construction jobs through an apprenticeship program. But those in the program did not get training in construction, she said, but instead performed difficult demolition work for no pay. Ms. Noriega is involved in a lawsuit against Forest City Ratner.
...Umar Jordan, a community organizer from Bedford Stuyvesant who also once supported the project, addressed himself to Jay-Z and told him that he should have made the arena “affordable for young children who grew up in the projects like you did.”
“We’ve been robbed; Brooklyn’s been robbed,” he told the crowd. “I’ve seen people go to jail for less.”
None of that remained--not in print and not on the web. (Unmentioned by the Times was that Jordan was cited in the lead of a November 2006 Times article about the racial divide over the project.)

Also cut was this:
While the concert went on, there was a free screening of a documentary, “Battle For Brooklyn,” near the arena. The movie chronicles the long fight waged over the project, focusing on Daniel Goldstein, who was displaced from his apartment and has been the leader of the opposition.
A change in tone

Instead, readers of the final article read a rather whimsical, dismissive account:
Dozens of opponents staged protests throughout the day. At dusk, thousands arrived to see the show — to hear a superstar rapper who grew up in a Brooklyn housing project. Many wore T-shirts and caps that suggested the new arena’s role in invigorating pride in this borough.
Then there was Daphne Carr, 34, uncomfortably straddling two worlds. She slept outside the arena on Thursday night and held a sign: “Brooklyn Sold but We Ain’t Buying.” But unlike other protesters who have sworn never to enter the Barclays Center for an event, she acknowledged with a shrug that she was attending Jay-Z’s concert on Saturday. 
...The protests outside the center throughout Friday were, for the most part, modest in size and often included farce as a means of expression. They involved a news conference beneath the entrance canopy, sermons, bits of street theater and coordinated Twitter posts.
The demonstrators, some of whom slept on the street the night before, rarely numbered more than 50.
Several women, done up in outlandish wigs, rhinestone jewelry and garish sunglasses, wore sandwich boards that said: “Billionaires for Barclays. Who’s in Your Pocket?”
The activist performer Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping appeared in a white suit, white boots and clerical collar and lamented that “Bruce Ratner figures” are destroying neighborhoods around the world.
Why not two articles?

Given that the Times has unlimited space on the web, why not keep a version of the earlier article, under a different URL? That means the archive would contain two articles, at least.

Ultimately, readers are disserved when the newspaper downplays the seriousness of the opposition, especially the role at the press conference by two former fervent supporters of the project.

Moreover, the attempt to assess the number of demonstrators ignored that 150 people attended a vigil the night before and a similarly large number went to see the "Battle for Brooklyn" documentary.

Regards,
Norman Oder
Atlantic Yards Report
Brooklyn

Barclays Center’s Opening Is Met With Protests - NYTimes, 9/28/12 For Brooklyn’s New Arena, Day 1 Brings Hip-Hop Fans and Protests, NY Times, 9/29/12

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