Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Posing for holy cards": how the press gets reminded of team/arena civic virtues, but misses more questionable issues


“News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising,” the British publisher Lord Northcliffe famously said, and while that may be sweeping, it's a good frame to analyze how and when certain press coverage emerges.

As I wrote 3/10/13, If the New York Times says so, then you know it's true: Nets Make Full Effort to Fit Into Brooklyn.

That article, focusing on an unspecified donation to a Brooklyn Boys & Girls Club by Nets/arena CEO Brett Yormark, surely was generated by a p.r. pitch. (Remember, his longtime strategy was a press release a day.)

In other words, advertising. (The story's now on Patch, since the dedication event is tomorrow.) Also advertising-like is the coverage of principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov's expression of happiness that the team would make the playoffs.

By contrast, consider the non-coverage of the news that the lowest price for Nets tickets next year will rise to $25, from a much-hyped $15 in the inaugural season.

To report that would mean not relying on the Nets' shorthand that prices, overall, would rise 8 percent, but to do a little work--to compare the charts for each season. Actually, it would require not much work, since a spreadsheet-savvy Nets fan did it himself.

The need for "antimanipulation"

It all makes me wonder how often people in the news business remind themselves of the need for "antimanipulation," that deliciously apt topic in a progressive Russian school, as described in Clifford Levy's 9/15/11 Times Magazine article My Family’s Experiment in Extreme Schooling:
New Humanitarian had standard subjects, like history and math, and Danya had many hours of homework a week. But Bogin added courses like antimanipulation, which was intended to give children tools to decipher commercial or political messages.
One example of such antimanipulation--completely routine in execution, but unusual since it went against the tide--was the 2/15/13 DNAinfo.com report Most Barclays Center Jobs Are Part-Time With No Benefits.

It was so unusual it made the back page (see bottom right) of a recent issue of the New Republic, as a staffer tallied "compelling" recent reading.

Another example: the Brooklyn Eagle's anomalously skeptical coverage, in January 2012, of developer Forest City Ratner's failure to hire the promised Independent Compliance Monitor for the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement. That story could be written yet again, given the developer's flat statement last month, without regret, that there's no plan to hire such a monitor.

But the big news today, as the Daily News cover at left suggests, is that MTV's Video Music Awards show is coming to Brooklyn.

"The show last aired from New York in 2009, when it took place at Radio City," the Daily News reported, featuring enthusiastic quotes from Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Borough President Marty Markowitz about the boost to the local economy and the borough's image.

To the Post, MTV President Stephen Friedman cited "[t]The vibrancy and cultural prowess that's now coming out of Brooklyn – whether it’s the music scene, sports scene or food scene" and noted that many staff members live in Brooklyn.

“There is a lot of local pride with the young people who work there,” he added. “You don’t get that at a lot of other venues.”

Sure, they've been trained to be cheerful and prideful. Surely they are--to a point. But they still don't have health insurance.

"Posing for holy cards"

Consider the coverage of a recent competition for fans to design Brooklyn Nets-themed sneakers, with judging by players and the hip-hop star Fabolous.

The Nets and the Barclays Center frequently host such "community" events. They have their value, but those reporting on them should remember what they're not being told.

A 3/17/13 op-ed in the Times by Michael Mudd, a former executive VP at Kraft Foods, headlined How to Force Ethics on the Food Industry, offered a reminder:
Next time you hear of a big food or beverage company sponsoring an after-school physical activity program in your community, you can be sure they’ll say it’s to show “our company’s concern for our kids’ health.” But the real intent is to look angelic while making consumers feel good about the brand and drawing attention away from the unhealthful nature of the company’s products. “Posing for holy cards,” as one of my colleagues used to put it.
The Nets, too, "pose for holy cards." The product isn't unhealthy, but there's a corporation trying to make money, distracting from more complicated issues like worker pay, the cost of tickets, leaking bass, and some sweet land deals.

Similarly, consider the feature coverage (NY1, Bleacher Report) of the Barclays Center's "cool" elevator and underground rotating turntable.

Sure, it's an innovation, but it doesn't work so perfectly. In fact, delivery trucks often idle on nearby residential streets, as noted on Atlantic Yards Watch. They must not send out the right press releases.

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