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Journalists talk shop: the Times's selective attention, the Observer's mandate to be "less wonky," and the fuzziness of a Post reporter on Atlantic Yards

The Architects' Newspaper reports on a panel discussion regarding coverage of architecture, development, and the media.

A couple of comments were particularly intriguing. I've bolded the questions, as appearing in the transcript, and appended my reactions.

How much interest in, and knowledge of, architecture do you assume there is among your readers?

Robin Pogrebin, culture reporter at The New York Times:
I get pitched in 100 to 200 emails a day; and I feel terrible about what might be falling through the cracks. I know the bar has become somewhat higher in terms of what we write about. Why should we write about this one? That is a hard question to answer. Ideally, it is a story that has larger implications beyond just the project itself: something about it represents a trend; or there’s a controversy about it (for better or worse); or a window into architecture through another route, say, the controversy about naming of Miami Art Museum.
Pogrebin writes for the culture desk, not the Metro section, but I suspect some of the same rationale goes into coverage--and not--of large projects like Atlantic Yards. The Times does not feel compelled to cover it steadily--witness the non-coverage of the Neighborhood Protection Plan--which means understanding diminishes.

Are you pressured to cover subjects, or projects?

Matt Chaban, real estate editor and reporter at The New York Observer:
I have been told to be less wonky. I have been told to stop invoking Robert Moses. We write almost not at all about architecture except in terms of development; we do a lot of residential real estate and industry types fighting each other. I have been asked to profile architects—for example Tod Williams and Billie Tsien because of the Barnes Museum opening—but that goes in the culture section. It’s not considered hard news.
Less wonky? That's too bad.

Because only a semi-sophisticated understanding of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs would lead reporters not to swallow an unsupportable statement like City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden's claim, in the New York Times, that the Bloomberg administration blends the two.

What needs to be written about right now?

Steve Cuozzo, real estate reporter and restaurant critic at The New York Post:
There’s a lot of residential building going on and I could be missing the boat here, but there really isn’t that much going on in terms of design issues to be discussed and debated. Yes, there are these huge projects like Hudson Yards and Hudson West and Ratner’s site behind the arena where there may, or may not, be some new buildings. But I am not aware that any of these projects are even remotely close to happening in terms of actual development. There are holes in the ground everywhere, but there’s nothing to engage the public’s attention the way the Trade Center did or even Columbus Circle did when it went through its many permutations before it finally got built after ten years. There’s nothing like that right now.
Well, Cuozzo's speaking colloquially, but it's not actually Ratner's site yet, unless he was speaking only of the arena block. And in that case, not to mention the site was a whole, it's not merely "behind the arena."

And while it may not engage the public's attention to report on the ever delayed plans to build the first Atlantic Yards tower, it should fulfill one of the responsibilities of journalism: accountability.


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