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Daily Beast: local coverage in NYC declines, most crucially in the Times

Check out two troubling and well-reported articles for the Daily Beast by Brooklyn College professor (and former New York Newsday staffer) Paul Moses: In New York City, Local Coverage Declines—and Takes Accountability With It and The New York Times Turns Its Sights Away From New York City.

This confirms what I've seen covering Atlantic Yards since 2005--though I often criticized spotty coverage of the project a decade ago, at least the project merited coverage.

Today, as news outlets shrink staff and coverage diminishes, what we do see is too often driven by press releases, thanks to a growing number of public relations staffers and a shrinking number of reporters. That has to do with the changing metrics of the journalism business, as managers chase national audiences and national ads.

Queens as a weathervane

In Moses's first installment, he suggests that Queens--which could be the nation’s fourth largest city, at 2.3 million people--is critically underserved, with exactly no one occupying the courthouse press room.

"The state of local reporting in New York City is at the lowest depth that I have experienced since I started as a reporter in 1974, and it’s not healthy in the long run for New York City to have a weakened media,” Daily News editor-in-chief Arthur Browne (!) told Moses. “Now I say that taking into account that there are many new producers of content.”

Yes, there's Politico and Chalkbeat, but even DNAinfo, a local workhorse, has retrenched, and so has Corner Media, a blog network in Brooklyn.

Interviewing former Daily News Queens bureau chief Paul Shin, Moses recounts how "the staff had aggressively covered the Queens borough president’s office, looking for conflicts of interest and misspent money." (Indeed, I pointed out that a softball New York Times feature on the Borough Presidents ignored the big question: campaign contributions.)

Moses's articles were reported with the support of the Urban Reporting Program of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which separately funded an important investigation by Ross Barkan--published in the Daily News--regarding the people getting rich from the Queens political machine.

And the Times

In Moses's second installment, he shows that, on the last Sunday of January, the Times ran 48 metro stories, compared to 102 in 2009 and 153 in 2001, with 42 metro reporters instead of 85 in 2001.

Why 2001 as a benchmark? Because that's when the Times proposed a deal for its new headquarteres (built by and with Forest City Ratner). And now the Times will get a subsidy worth at least $80 million and as much as $106 million from the city, Moses reports exclusively,

Moses admires the Times's investigations on the criminal justice system but suggests something is lost when the Times gives up incremental coverage. (I'd say it also means reporters will repeat inaccuracies, as in claiming--yet uncorrected--that Atlantic Yards developers "initially pledged to create 2,250 affordable apartments by 2035.")

Moses's anecdote on that incremental issue is devastating. While Metro Editor Wendell Jamieson pointed to a fire that killed two toddlers in a Bronx public housing project as an example of coverage the Times won't do, Moses points out that the Times "might miss a story about a systemic hazard."

And that's what happened--the Times missed the report on the fire issued by the city Department of Investigation, which the Daily News and DNAInfo.com did report.

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