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Report Charges Conflict In NY Times Coverage Of Development Project

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The New York Times’s coverage of proposed taxpayer-subsidized Atlantic Yards development by its own business partner, Brooklyn developer Bruce Ratner, has been misleading, inadequate, and largely uncritical, a thoroughly-documented new report charges. The Ratner project would require use of eminent domain to build a massive set of seventeen towers plus a basketball arena, span at least twenty-two acres, and overwhelm low-rise brownstone Brooklyn. The Times’s coverage of this project, the largest ever in Brooklyn and one of the largest in the history of New York City, has been grossly inadequate, according to the new report, “The New York Times & Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards: High-Rises & Low Standards”.

Researched and written by independent Brooklyn-based journalist Norman Oder, the report and executive summary, with backup documentation, is available at Develop Don’t Destroy–Brooklyn. The report has been endorsed by four Brooklyn neighborhood groups — Develop Don’t Destroy-Brooklyn; Fort Greene Association; Park Slope Neighbors, Prospect Heights Action Coalition — and the media watchdog

The New York Times Company and Forest City Ratner (FCR), which has proposed the massive Brooklyn project, are partners in building the Times Company’s new headquarters on Eighth Avenue, which also involved use of eminent domain. Develop Don’t Destroy–Brooklyn spokesman Daniel Goldstein said, “As a business collaborator, the Times Company has an interest in Forest City Ratner’s overall success. As a newspaper, The Times has an obligation to cover FCR in all its ventures, including the $3.5 billion Atlantic Yards project, without fear or favor.”

The report includes a thorough assessment of The Times’s coverage, from FCR’s announcement of the Atlantic Yards development in December 2003 to the present. Prospect Heights Action Coalition founder Patti Hagan stresses that the report reveals numerous stories missed, legitimate critics ignored, issues downplayed, and mistakes uncorrected. Other media outlets have reported crucial information on the Atlantic Yards project that The Times has omitted, as this report points out: it suggests more issues to pursue. They include: number of jobs promised; the public costs of the project; polls showing most New Yorkers oppose a taxpayer-funded arena; and Forest City Ratner’s public relations tactics. Also, The Times has not consistently disclosed its relationship with Forest City Ratner — even after its own Public Editor, in the ombudsman position established in 2003 to independently critique newsroom operations, urged such disclosure.

The report says that The Times’s inadequate coverage of Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development doesn’t mean that reporters and editors at The Times have been told to go easy on Forest City Ratner. However, given the two companies’ corporate relationship, the newspaper should report on FCR exactingly, taking care to dispel any suspicion of conflict of interest. The Times has failed to do so.

Norman Oder, the writer of the report, has been a journalist for more than 20 years. As a freelancer, he has contributed to a wide range of publications, including Columbia Journalism Review, American Journalism Review, New York Newsday, New York Daily News,The Village Voice, New York Press, and Gotham Gazette. He earned a Master of Studies in Law as a journalism fellow at Yale Law School. A licensed tour guide, he also has operated a part-time tour business in Brooklyn since 2000.

Develop Don’t Destroy—Brooklyn (DDDB) leads a broad-based community coalition fighting for development that unites communities instead of dividing and destroying them. It co-sponsored the creation of six alternate development plans (for both an arena and for the site targeted by FCR), which illustrate deep flaws and weaknesses in the FCR plan.

The Fort Greene Association is devoted to historic preservation, neighborhood and park enhancement, as well as cultural, economic, and housing advancement. is a media watchdog group and blog devoted to the Atlantic Yards project.

Park Slope Neighbors is a neighborhood organization, formed in 2005, committed to the protection and enhancement of quality of life in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Prospect Heights Action Coalition is a group of “street fighters” defending Brooklyn’s neighborhoods from predatory developers. It was the first organization to publicly expose and oppose Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project.

The report was delivered to Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., Executive Editor Bill Keller; Assistant Managing Editor and Standards Editor Allan Siegal; Metro Editor Susan Edgerly; Editorial Page Editor Gail Collins; Editorial Board Member Carolyn Curiel; and Public Editor Byron Calame. The groups endorsing the report request that The Times promptly issue corrections of errors and that Editor’s Notes disclosing The Times’s business relationship with developer Forest City Ratner be appended to archived versions of articles. The groups also request that Public Editor Calame conduct a thorough and prompt investigation of The Times’s coverage of Forest City Ratner and Atlantic Yards.

The report and executive summary, with backup documentation, is available here. It was first reported on the blog Big Cities Big Boxes.

CONTACT: Norman Oder,


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