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Will the Times correct the "same site" error? Not quite

This is the second of three articles (first, third) on "Atlantic Yards corrections fatigue."

The New York Times on multiple occasions has suggested that Atlantic Yards would be built on the "same site" Walter O'Malley wanted for a new Brooklyn Dodgers stadium.

That's not true, as I pointed out in an extensive analysis last May. And, while the Times last December made the same error online, apparently because of a reliance on the existing and erroneous clip file, it will not publish a correction for the previous articles.

Why? It's a judgment call, Times editors told me, given that they can't publish corrections for all the "old articles" that deserve them. However, as I argue below, if there is a hierarchy for such corrections, "old articles" that are part of current controversies should be the priority. Indeed, the error gets repeated periodically by project supporters like Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Moreover, the Times does periodically correct older articles than the ones I cited, including articles that have no relevance to any controversy.

Conclusion: it's another case of "Atlantic Yards corrections fatigue," which I defined as"the disturbing realization that we too often make errors in covering Atlantic Yards."

Pointing out the error

On 12/8/07, I wrote to three Times editors:

The Times on multiple occasions (in articles, an op-ed, and an editorial) has indicated that the arena planned for the Atlantic Yards project would be on the "same site" as the location Walter O'Malley sought for a successor to Ebbets Field.

That's not so; he sought a site across the street, as I explained:

The errors are as follows:
A 1/16/04 article, headlined Yo, Dodgers? No Way! Brooklyn Is Betting on the Nets for Revival, stated:
"Coincidentally, the Nets would be based at the same site that Walter O'Malley wanted as a new home for the Dodgers before moving the team to California."

A 1/22/04 article headlined Nets Are Sold for $300 Million, and Dream Grows in Brooklyn, maintained the error:
"There is no guarantee that Mr. Ratner will be able to fulfill his vision in Brooklyn, where sports fans are still haunted by memories of the Dodgers' departure to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. The arena would be built on the same site the Dodgers were rebuffed from buying."

A 7/1/04 editorial, headlined The Brooklyn Nets, similarly erred:
"There is also, of course, the dream of giving back to Brooklyn some of the luster it lost when Robert Moses killed Walter O'Malley's vision of building a domed stadium for the Dodgers at the same site nearly 50 years ago..."

Former Brooklyn Borough Historian (!) John Manbeck, in an 11/13/05 op-ed headlined The Project That Ate Brooklyn, wrote:
"At the core of the Atlantic Yards plan is an arena for the New Jersey Nets on the very site that was denied the Brooklyn Dodgers 50 years ago."

[I left out an 8/8/03 article, headlined YankeeNets Is on the Verge of Splitting Apart, which stated: "The site, which includes a rail yard and public and private land, strikes a historical echo in Brooklyn. In the 1950's, Walter O'Malley, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, wanted to build a stadium there to replace Ebbets Field."]

Why is a correction important?

Because the Times last week made the same error online, and then published a correction:
"An earlier version of this article misstated the location of Walter F. O’Malley’s proposed Dodgers stadium from the 1950s in relation to the current-day Atlantic Yards site. It would have been adjacent to, not within the modern footprint of, the Atlantic Yards development. The article has been corrected."

The Times's print coverage got it right:
"Just across Atlantic Avenue from where Mr. O’Malley wanted to build his stadium, the developer Bruce Ratner is developing a $4 billion complex, the Atlantic Yards, featuring a basketball arena."

However, until the archive is corrected, future errors are likely to recur.

A note, not a correction

Senior Editor Greg Brock responded promptly:
[Correction 4/5/09: I previously referred to Brock as Corrections Editor]

On Monday, I will ask our researchers to attach a note to each of the 2004 articles that will say that this is site is across the street. This note will guide reporters who go to the archives to look up information on this project. Though I would hope they would use articles much more recent than 2004 as a guide, since there have been so many developments since then.

As you noted, we had this correct in print. The City Room blog ran its own correction. (We do not correct Web articles in the print editions.)

I am not going to run a print correction for the 2004 news articles. If the editorial editors choose to run a print correction on their 2004 editorial. that is their decision. We have nothing to do with those articles or decisions about corrections on those pages.

There is a limit to how many old articles we can correct in print. If we start that, it would take about 2 open pages every day for a year to correct all the old errors. And I doubt that would be enough. But the note will be placed in our internal archives for future reference.

Op-Ed desk

I got a similar response from an unnamed member of the Op-Ed staff:
Thank you for your note, which Mr. Brock has passed on to us. After consultation with Mr. Manbeck, we have decided to follow Mr. Brock's lead and append a correction to the archive on the Op-Ed article from 2005. Thank you for reading The Times.

My response

I responded to Brock:

I appreciate your prompt reply and agree that appending a note to the archive may be part of a responsible response.

However, I do not think it goes far enough, for the following reasons.

1) It does not conform to the Times's policy.

As in a Q&A last year on the Times's Correction Policy May 10, 2006, your predecessor, Bill Borders, stated "The key principles are to be totally honest and totally transparent. To level with the readers 100 percent."

According to the Stylebook cited:
"Because its voice is loud and far-reaching, The Times recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small (even misspellings of names), promptly and in a prominent reserved space in the paper. A correction serves all readers, not just those who were injured or who complained, so it must be self-explanatory, tersely recalling the context and the background while repairing the error.
A complaint from any source should be relayed to a responsible editor and investigated quickly. If a correction is warranted, it should follow immediately. In the rare case of a delay longer than a month, the correction should include an explanation (saying, for example, how recently the error was discovered, or why the checking took so long). If the justification is lame or lacking, the correction should acknowledge a reporting or editing lapse."

That Stylebook does not, so far as I can tell, provide an exception for articles of a certain vintage. The policy appears to be inconsistent; indeed, in 2005, the Times corrected errors in an obituary published more than 12 years earlier:

2) As far as I can tell, the note appended to the archives affects only in-house access by the Times. (If that interpretation is wrong, please let me know.) If a correction is not published, it will not be appended to the versions of those articles (and op-ed/editorial) that appear in numerous databases. Thus, other researchers and reporters drawing on those pieces may be misled.

3) If there must be triage regarding the number of "old articles" you can correct in print, I would suggest that print corrections should be prioritized for "old articles" about ongoing controversies, such as Atlantic Yards, especially if the errors all favor "one side" of a controversy.

The Times, through its lapses, five times reinforced the misguided notion that the Atlantic Yards arena might be, in its way, a restoration of Walter O'Malley's dream. That merits correction in print.

Consider a set of "old articles" from two or three years ago that misrepresent the stance of a public official, now a candidate for president, toward an ongoing controversy. Surely those articles would merit correction in print?

An incomplete response

On 12/10/07, Brock responded:
We do in fact correct older articles from time to time. But it's a case-by-case call, not a blanket rule.

The best way to get an article corrected is to report the error at the time it occurs.

Old corrections

Brock's formulation seemed arbitrary, so I kept my eye open for old corrections and, soon enough, found them.

On 12/14/07, however, the Times published this very old correction in the main news section:
Because of a transcription error, a brief art review in Weekend on May 8, 1987, about an exhibition of paintings by Charles G. Shaw at the Richard York Gallery on East 65th Street, misstated the location of a small painting from 1942, whose date did not fit with those of the other paintings, which were made in the 1930s. It was displayed in the vitrine near the receptionist’s desk, not the latrine. (The reviewer called the error to editors’ attention this week while doing research.)

Of course that reviewer is on staff. Curiously, that correction has not been appended to the electronic archive.

On 12/16/07, the Times published a correction in the Sunday Styles section:
An article on Feb. 19, 2006, about people who relocate to Washington, D.C., and keep their hometown cellphone area codes for a sense of regional identity, misspelled the given name of a California woman with a 714 area code who works for a San Francisco congressman. She is Puja Patel, not Punja. (Ms. Patel pointed out the error in an e-mail message on Dec. 7.)

On 12/20/07, the Times published a correction in the main news section:
An obituary on June 30, 2000, about Tobin Rote, a championship quarterback for the Detroit Lions in the 1950s, misstated his full name, referred incorrectly to a relative in the list of survivors and omitted the names of two others. He was Tobin Cornelius Rote Sr. — not Jr. Julie Struble Rote was Mr. Rote’s wife, not a daughter. Two survivors — a daughter named Robin Rote Kirk, of Plymouth, Mich., and a previous wife named Betsy Bobo Todd of Bloomfield Township, Mich. — were omitted. (A family member pointed out the errors in an e-mail message on Tuesday.)

On 1/28/08, the Times published this very old correction: A Sports of The Times column on May 21, 1999, about the vocal presence of New York fans at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for an N.B.A. playoff game between the Hawks and the Knicks, misspelled the surname of a fan from Howard Beach in Queens. He is Constantin Manta, not Marta. Mr. Manta pointed out the error in an e-mail message this week.

Again, curiously, the correction has not been appended to the electronic archive.

Trivial errors

And then, of course, are the many trivial errors that the Times readily corrects. Yesterday the Times offered:
A picture caption on Friday with an article about Representative John Lewis’s possible shift of support from Hillary Rodham Clinton to Barack Obama misstated, in some editions, the day that the photograph of Mrs. Clinton holding boxing gloves was taken. It was Thursday, not Wednesday.

And today the Times published this correction:
A report in the “Big Deal” column last Sunday about the recent sale of a town house on East 75th Street whose ornate living room has been used for scenes in a television series misstated the name of the series. It is “Gossip Girl,” not “Gossip Girls.”

No one reading the Times would have been seriously misled about the identity of the television series. But some powerful New Yorkers still erroneously believe that the Atlantic Yards arena would be built at the site Walter O'Malley wanted for Ebbets Field.



    This is inaccurate.

    The inaccuracy bears on many substantial issues critical to equity and proper public decision making.

    The public, press and government should be calling for the developer’s retraction of this statement. The New York Times has not done so. (Nor has Spitzer.)

    The Times Statements in many of its articles ECHO the misstatements by the developer reinforcing the misimpressions the developer is for very important tactical reasons intending to convey.

    One could say that this ECHO sounds like voice of the developer’s PARTNER.

    In point of fact, the New York Times is a PARTNER with the developer in the construction of its new headquarters (for which below-cost land was acquired via little reported eminent domain abuse).

    Decide: Does the voice of the Times sound like: a.) a partner of the developer, or b.) an independent voice attentive to the most important issues in New York City governance?


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