About Norman Oder & this blog/clips/Contact information

I am a journalist in Brooklyn. I've been covering Atlantic Yards (dubiously renamed Pacific Park in August 2014) since 2005, and following it since shortly after the project was announced in December 2003. I'm "the only reporter to continue to follow the events of this project closely," as sports business reporter John Brennan wrote 9/24/14.

Contact: AtlanticYardsReport(at)hotmail.com. I'm available for interviews but...
I prefer 1) specific questions and 2) that anyone querying me has tried to search the blog, checked the Culture of Cheating overview page, and looked at the (somewhat stale) FAQ for relevant information.

Yes, I'm available for speaking engagements and Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park tours.

Accountability journalism

I discuss watchdog journalism further below, but first point to Dan Froomkin's observation in Nieman Reports:
To many people, watchdog reporting is synonymous with investigative reporting, specifically, ferreting out secrets. But there’s another, maybe even more crucial form of watchdog reporting, especially in this age of relentless public relations and spin. It involves reporting what may well be in plain sight, contrasting that with what officials in government and other positions of power say, rebuffing and rebutting misinformation, and sometimes even taking a position on what the facts suggest is the right solution.
Jay Rosen of PressThink writes of the journalist's job:
Inform the public of what it needs to know. Try to hold powerful figures accountable for what they do and say. Ask people in the public eye to explain themselves. Fight for transparency and practice it yourself. Fight against secrecy and opacity in public life. Clearly separate the trivial and entertaining from the consequential and informative. Equip the users of news to participate in their own democracy. Speak truthfully and accurately.
My background

I've been a journalist for some 30 years--as a daily reporter, and later as a freelancer for publications from The American Lawyer to Columbia Journalism Review to the Village Voice. I still freelance. From 1996 through early October 2010, I worked at the trade magazine Library Journal, unrelated to this project. My final position was Executive Editor, News.

I decided to leave Library Journal to work on a book about Atlantic Yards, while continuing the blog, freelancing, and working as a tour guide.

Before I began Atlantic Yards coverage, I won a Silver Gavel Award (while at the Charleston Gazette, WV) from the American Bar Association. I also won a year-long fellowship for journalists at Yale Law School, where I earned an MSL (Master of Studies in Law).

Blogger or journalist?

Anyone can be a "blogger;" some disparage "bloggers" as those who don't do new reporting or provide verifiable information. So I prefer being described as a journalist who writes a blog, or uses the blog format. I do lots of shoe-leather reporting--and even shoot/use video these days--and do my best to cite checkable sources.

The distinction is especially important when the "blogger" is not attached to a well-established entity. The term "New York Times blogger" suggests more credibility than "Atlantic Yards Report blogger."

Praise from observers/interviews

My Atlantic Yards awards are described further below, but my work has been praised by:
  • Chris Smith in New York Magazine ("a skeptic in the tradition of I.F. Stone")
  • The Brooklyn Paper ("Call him a blogger or a journalist, but no one did better shoe-leather reporting than Oder did").
  • David Smith of the Affordable Housing Institute ("Give this man a Pulitzer")
  • journalist Tim Sohn ("one of the finest pieces of local journalism on the internet")
  • Malcolm Gladwell in Grantland ("brilliantly obsessive coverage")
  • Brian Berger of Who Walk In Brooklyn ("the Quincy of this developmental malfeasance mess") 
  • Matt Chaban in the New York Observer ("incomparable Atlantic Yards watchdog")
  • journalist Colin Brayton ("simply one of the best one-note samba public policy blogs I know of")
  • Brokelyn: "Local pain-in-the-ass (and we mean that with tons of respect)"
In April 2009, this blog was cited in a debate between pundits Paul Starr and Steven Johnson about the future of news.

I've been interviewed twice by the New York Observer, on 2/7/07 and 9/21/10. I was interviewed by Metro on 8/20/07.

In the New York Observer, Matthew Schuerman wrote 9/5/07, "Journalist Norman Oder... has repeatedly questioned Forest City’s ability to complete all phases of the work by 2016." (I was right.)

The New York Post's Rich Calder wrote 12/14/09, "In fact, one blogger, Norman Oder, has reported the subject to death over the past four years through his Atlantic Yards Report site, pissing off developer Bruce Ratner and the state and exposing various funding anomalies that have been picked up by the major media."

New York Magazine's Chris Smith wrote 12/7/10 about my EB-5 coverage: "Norman Oder recently began his sixth year of reporting on the Atlantic Yards saga at his website, Atlantic Yards Report, and his best work may have just begun.

On 9/6/12, I was interviewed by MetroFocus (WNET/WLIW): The Beat Goes On: Q&A With Atlantic Yards Watchdog Journalist Norman Oder. On 9/5/12, I was interviewed (second hour) on the WBAI Talk Back! show.

In the 9/23/12 issue of New York magazine, Haunts, Mark Jacobson, observed that the Atlantic Yards saga "has been detailed in many places, most trenchantly in Norman Oder’s singularly obsessive website, Atlantic Yards Report."

In the 10/2/12 New York Observer, Kevin Baker cited "Norman Oder’s meticulously researched website, Atlantic Yards Report, a sterling example of civic service."

Freelance work on Atlantic Yards and Brooklyn

In July 2006, I began writing regularly for the weekly Brooklyn Downtown Star; my last piece was in 2008.

June 2008: Atlantic Yards: This Generation's Penn Station? for Places Journal.

The Spring 2010 issue of the Urban Lawyer, a law journal devoted to urban issues, includes an article I co-authored, with Amy Lavine, Urban Redevelopment Policy, Judicial Deference to Unaccountable Agencies, and Reality in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards Project.

6/22/10: An op-ed in the New York Times Sports section headlined A Russian Billionaire, the Nets and Sweetheart Deals.

9/30/10: An op-ed in the New York Observer headlined KPMG's Fuzzy Math on Atlantic Yards.

1/21/11: A New York Times "Complaint Box" essay headlined Powerless in Brooklyn.

3/18/11: A Columbia Journalism Review online essay headlined A Sports Myth Grows in Brooklyn.

6/3/11: A Dissent review of the film Battle for Brooklyn, headlined The Epic Battle Over Atlantic Yards.

8/1/11: An article for Urban Omnibus on Atlantic Yards Watch: Tracking Daily Impacts.

10/24/11: An article for City Limits, The Unfulfilled Promises of Atlantic Yards.

10/25/11: An article for Salon, Jay-Z's hip-hop of distraction.

3/1/12: An article for New York Magazine's Daily Intel, Yonkers Corruption Trial Puts Forest City Ratner in the Spotlight.

3/19/12: An article for New York Magazine's Grub Street, Brooklyn Arena Will Sell ‘Brooklynized’ Water, Formulated (and Facing Legal Scrutiny) in Florida.

3/22/12: An article for New York Magazine's Daily Intel, At Yonkers Corruption Trial, the ‘Sugar Daddy’ Defense.

3/29/12: An article for New York Magazine's Daily Intel, Yonkers Politicians Guilty of Corruption Over Forest City Ratner Project.

4/4/12: An article for Streetsblog, Barclays Center Mysteries: Three Big Unknowns About Arena Transportation.

4/12/12: An article for New York Magazine's Daily Intel, Appellate Court Rebukes State Agency for Backing Atlantic Yards.

4/26/12: An article for New York Magazine's Daily Intel, Bloomberg Promises 2,000 Jobs at the Barclays Center, Sort Of.

5/7/12: An article for The Classical, Why the NBA Loves the Brooklyn Nets (and Why Bruce Ratner's Now Talking Up Hockey).

6/8/12: An article for Atlantic Cities, Fears of a Tight Fit for Brooklyn's Arena.

8/8/12: An article for Urban Omnibus on Lifespan of a (Brooklyn) Fact: Can One in Seven Americans Trace Roots to Brooklyn?

8/26/12: An article for City Limits' Brooklyn Bureau, Agency, Developer Wrestle Over Atlantic Yards Affordability.

10/1/12: An article for Atlantic Cities, Why Reviewing Brooklyn's New Arena Before It Opened Was Premature.

11/12: An article for The Brooklyn Rail, A Brand Called Brooklyn, on the use of "Brooklyn" to sell the arena and team.

11/6/12: An essay for City Journal, The Barclays Center's Media Enabler, on the New York Times's erratic, inadequate coverage. (And more here.)

12/6/12: An article for City Limits' Brooklyn Bureau, Are Brooklyn Nets' Promised Cheap Seats for Sale?

12/14/12: An essay for Reuters Opinion, Brooklyn's Vaunted, Tainted Barclays Center.

4/3/13: An article for City Limits' Brooklyn Bureau Former Gadfly Cop Nears Coronation as Brooklyn Borough President.

4/9/13: An article for City Limits' Brooklyn Bureau, For Next Brooklyn Borough President, What's the Agenda?

5/8/13: An article for New York Magazine's Daily Intel, Barclays Center Has a Big Noise Problem.

6/7/13: An article for City Limits' Brooklyn Bureau, City Downplays Ratner's Role in Carousel Recovery.

7/29/13: An article for Boog City, The Barclays Center Emerges, Overshadowing Atlantic Yards Skepticism.

8/2/13: An article for City Limits' Brooklyn Bureau, Real-Estate Lobby Dives into Central Brooklyn Council Race.

9/11/13: An article for Moyers.com, In Brooklyn, Buzz, Hype and Distraction.

10/3/13: An article for the Brooklyn Rail, Barclays Center: Brooklyn’s “Community Arena”?

10/14/13: An article for City Limits' Brooklyn Bureau, Forest City Ratner Again Gets Extension from MTA.

10/31/13: An article for the Commercial Observer, Near Barclays Center, the Rave that Wasn’t (But Might Be).

11/4/13: An article for the Brooklyn Rail, Will James Challenge De Blasio on Atlantic Yards?

3/25/14: An article for City Limits' Brooklyn Bureau, Plan for Community Use of Barclays Center Emerges.

7/3/14: An article for City Limits' Brooklyn Bureau, Behind Atlantic Yards Housing Deal, Some Big Shifts.

8/21/14: An article for BKLYNR, When ‘Affordable’ Rents Push $3,000.

8/26/14: An article for Next City, After 11 Years of Controversy, Atlantic Yards Becomes Pacific Park Brooklyn.

Awards and notice

On 6/7/07, I was honored with the Park Slope Civic Council's (PSCC) Lovgren Volunteer Award. I was a member of the PSCC for several years, and still volunteer for the annual Park Slope House Tour. I haven't participated in any of their policymaking.

See coverage here and here in the New York Daily News's I-Team blog, coverage of the AY blogosphere in the Times, and 2007 Brooklyn Blogfest coverage (also see Times coverage).

In May 2008, the New York Observer named me #77 (!?) on its quite arbitrary list of the most powerful people in New York real estate. I have not been on subsequent lists.

In February 2010, I was honored with a Crystal Eagle Award from the Owners' Counsel of America, an organization of attorneys who represent those facing eminent domain. As I wrote, I had qualms about being described, at least according to some OCA members, as a "champion of property rights." I responded that I was a "champion of good government."

I was nominated for the award by New York attorney Michael Rikon, who represents some property owners in the Atlantic Yards footprint regarding condemnation awards (rather than larger challenges to the project). Here's coverage of Rikon.

In August 2011, Brooklyn-based The L Magazine named Atlantic Yards Report "Best Local Blog" in its Best of Brooklyn awards.

How the blog started

This blog grew out of the report I wrote, issued 9/1/05, critiquing the New York Times’s coverage of Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project. The report was endorsed and promoted by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) and other activist groups, but the responsibility is all mine.

I approached DDDB because I knew they and others would both be interested in the topic and in publicizing it. Had I known that it was more than a one-shot--that I would wind up writing a long-running blog including reportage, analysis, and commentary--I might have kept more of a distance.

In the aftermath of the report, I began a blog, the TimesRatnerReport, on 9/1/05. I intended it to briefly track coverage of my report. I began to offer analysis of both the Atlantic Yards project and the media coverage of it, then began to include more original reporting.

On 3/1/06, I changed the name to Atlantic Yards Report. The overdue name change reflected my broader approach to the topic. On 8/10/14, I expanded the name to Atlantic Yards (& Pacific Park) Report.

Why did I not shut the blog down, I've been asked, when the construction of the Barclays Center began in 2010? Because the blog was not about "stopping" the arena, it's about looking at a complicated, challenging, and ever-changing story, and trying to hold those in power accountable.

Business model?

There's a lot of talk about new business models for web-based journalism. I don't have a business model for this blog.

I don't accept ads. I do this as a volunteer; I don’t get paid, except for freelance work. Until late 2010, the blog was supported by my full-time job. Since then, the blog has been supported through my work as a journalist and tour guide, and through savings.

Is this sustainable? No, but I don't have an expiration date for the blog, either.

In case you're wondering, the blog is not for sale. (I received an inquiry once.)

Speaking engagements/tours

I am available to speak at classes, conferences, and other forums. I have given several walking tours to visiting groups of journalists, urban planners, and architects--and to student groups from Pratt, NYU/Polytechnic, and other institutions. I annually lead Atlantic Yards walking tours as part of "Jane's Walks," in honor of Jane Jacobs.

On 2/24/07, I spoke at the Grassroots Media Conference on "objectivity, neutrality, and integrity" in covering Atlantic Yards.

On 10/9/07, I participated on the Municipal Art Society's panel on New Media, New Politics? Jane Jacobs and an Activist Press.

I was a guest on the TV show Brian Lehrer Live in May 2006October 2007, and June 2009.

On 10/3/09, I spoke at the Dreamland Pavilion Conference in Brooklyn, on “Atlantic Yards: Brooklyn’s Most Controversial Development through the Lens of Public Relations and News Coverage."

On 8/12/11, I lectured on "Why Atlantic Yards Makes Me Angry (and makes me a better journalist)" at the Galapagos Art Space's "Get Smart" series. (Here's a review: "Oder is funny when he's angry.")

On 8/4/13, I spoke at the Boog City festival.

A "watchdog" blog

I call this a "watchdog" blog because it's devoted to a close look at Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park and associated issues. I'm concerned about accountability.

From where I lived in Park Slope from 1992 through mid-2011, it’s about a seven-minute walk to the project footprint; that sensitized me to issues like scale and traffic, and made me skeptical, for example, of architectural renderings that downplayed the size of the project. I moved in 2011 within Brooklyn and am now a 15-minute subway ride from the project site. I don’t own property in Brooklyn.

I write reportage, analysis, and commentary, including press criticism. My goal is not neutrality but credibility, not "he said, she said," but fairness. As former New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent wrote (It's Good to Be Objective. It's Even Better to Be Right., 11/14/04):
Fairness requires the consideration of all sides of an issue; it doesn't require the uncritical reporting of any. Yet even the best reporters will sometimes display a disappointing reluctance to set things straight.
I also take a cue from a "Journalism Manifesto" by former Wall Street Journal writer G. Paschal Zachary, who wrote:
Let subjects have their say, but tell readers why one side is fudging, lying or worse... The critical measure of a journalist's stature is whether they got the story right, not whether they were fair and balanced... Stop talking about journalists’ ‘objectivity’ and instead promote the concept of journalistic 'integrity.'
And I draw on Brent Cunningham's Re-thinking Objectivity, in Columbia Journalism Review:
But our pursuit of objectivity can trip us up on the way to “truth.” Objectivity excuses lazy reporting. If you’re on deadline and all you have is “both sides of the story,” that’s often good enough. It’s not that such stories laying out the parameters of a debate have no value for readers, but too often, in our obsession with, as The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward puts it, “the latest,” we fail to push the story, incrementally, toward a deeper understanding of what is true and what is false.
Cunningham also notes that the pursuit of objectivity "exacerbates our tendency to rely on official sources," makes us wary of tactics that may lose access to sources, and "makes reporters hesitant to inject issues into the news that aren’t already out there."

So that means I am often skeptical of the claims made by the developer and the supporters of the project, such as the expected economic benefits or the fairness of the process. And I don't rely on others to set the agenda.

Such skepticism aligns me closer to project opponents, critics, and others outside the mainstream than to project supporters or Forest City Ratner. But I don’t necessarily share anyone's views or analysis, and I don't take what opponents and others say as gospel.

Most of the material I cite is in the public domain, so my choices and my analysis—about what to include and how to frame it—are often checkable.

My claim to authority

Do I simply have a "slant," as one journalist suggested to me, or is my perspective and analysis rooted in any authority? My record, I submit, suggests the latter.

NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen observes:
Your authority starts with, “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.” If “anyone” can produce media and share it with the world, what makes the pro journalist special, or worth listening to? Not the press card, not the by-line, not the fact of employment by a major media company. None of that. The most reliable source of authority for a professional journalist will continue to be what James W. Carey called “the idea of a report.” That’s when you can truthfully say to the users, “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.” ... Or, “I reviewed those documents, you didn’t, let me tell you what I found.” Your authority begins when you do the work. If an amateur or a blogger does the work, the same authority is earned. 
On objectivity, neutrality, and integrity

Also worth noting: my comments in February 2007, part of On objectivity, neutrality, and integrity in covering AY:
I have been highly critical of the project, and I’m not neutral. That means I don’t think that balancing a quote from the developer and the opponents necessarily makes for honest journalism. That’s pseudo-objectivity.
I am often skeptical of the claims made by the developer and the supporters of the project. So that aligns me closer to project opponents, and that’s why I’m here today. But they don’t control my blog—I mean, today’s coverage, I wrote a nuanced piece on the judge’s decision and DDDB issued a press release—different content, different goals.
Still, it doesn’t make sense to try to find a mythical middle if you don’t do any digging. I mean, I don’t have to ask [DDDB's] Candace [Carponter] here if the project’s too big. Frank Gehry thinks the project’s too big.
I don’t have to find an activist to say that the approval process for this project isn’t democratic. The Regional Plan Association, mainstream group—they say the process is lousy.
So my criticism—or what seems to be opposition--emerges from my journalistic examination of the project, not the other way around.
Public testimony

Before and during the very early stages of my blog, I testified critically about this project in July and September 2005 before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and also in October 2005 before the Empire State Development Corporation.

In each of those cases, I cited my research, reminding listeners of Forest City Ratner's record in Brooklyn, describing the contents of my report on the New York Times, and criticizing the claims in Forest City Ratner's promotional Brooklyn Standard publication (which they halted after two issues).

I subsequently testified briefly at lagging, late moments in two Empire State Development Corporation public hearings, calling attention to pending Freedom of Information Law requests that I had filed but which had not resulted in delivery of documents. In 2013, I even commented briefly at an ESDC board meeting, reminding them how difficult it was to get information.

In 2014, though I had no plans to testify at an ESDC board meeting, I was compelled to speak because a comment of mine had been ignored.

Those activities go beyond what reporters typically do; they could be considered the equivalent of a newspaper column. This blog melds reportage with analysis and commentary. Such multiple formats may be found in one publication but usually not from one journalist.

Such is the evolving world of the niche or standalone journalist, who, according to Chris Nolan, "succeeds in getting stories told in an honest and forthright manner without benefit of working for a larger news outlet."

On editing and responsiveness

This is a one-person journalistic operation. Many but by no means all of my writings emerge without outside editing; for more complex or controversial topics, I sometimes send pieces to friends for a read.

I frequently correct minor errors--typos or missing words--after readers catch those mistakes; I consider such changes the equivalent of a newspaper tweaking a story between its first and final editions.

Sometimes more significant changes are required, because I have made errors or new information has surfaced. In such cases, I aim to indicate that changes were made after the initial posting. I have made changes in response to occasional requests for corrections or clarifications.

I welcome feedback, both via comments and email, as well as notification of typos. Comments are moderated; I prefer commenters to use their names, especially when criticizing others.

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