Tag Archives: NYT

Truthiness: How Hard Can the Windbags Blow?

Truth, Fact, Interpretation, Misdirection – In An Age of Liars, We Need A Decoder Ring

Think about this: we know the difference between truth and lies. Presumably, we form our opinions from the information given to us. Certainly, this ought to be the case for things like policy decisions. Shouldn’t our elected officials be able to incorporate relevant facts and factors into their plans of what to do next? Stephen Colbert’s “Truthiness” is alarmingly relevant right now.

When I was in college, I took a tremendous class from well-known writer Francine Prose, called “Language, Literature, and Lies.” Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a great primer for my work in PR. One of the most lasting exercises was to read the same big news story in three major outlets (The New York Times, The New York Post, and The Guardian). We pored over the articles, picking out how the authors referred to their subjects (e.g. President Obama, Barack Obama, Obama, Mr. Obama, the president, etc.), which snippets of quotes they chose to cite, how they framed an issue, and who they gave the last word. Subtle choices conveyed biases. As humans, it is nearly impossible for us to describe happenings completely objectively – the nature of language is that it necessarily filters everything through our own lens; our own version of truth.

That said, while most media outlets use specific language to shape their version of events, they still stick to the same basic facts in news. That’s something we expect; why read or watch news if none of it is true? So it is jarring to note that when it comes to picking candidates for the presidency, many voters are keen to disregard flat out lies so long as they serve a particular agenda. The author of Wag the Dog recently wrote a biting op-ed about this in Al Jazeera, and multiple papers have referenced Politifact’s “Truth-O-Meter” with regards to candidate claims (it ranges from true to pants on fire).

I’m a big proponent of free speech, but I do believe that there is a difference between fact and opinion. Facts are, by nature, true. They are true whether you believe them or not. The converse is not the case. Unfortunately for some of us dreamers, simply believing something very fervently does not magically make it true. There is a danger to pandering to that falsehood. We can handle the truth, and we must if we expect to do anything helpful or relevant in life.

Stephen Colbert: Truthiness

Status Report: Reporters

Those of us who have worked either in the field of journalism or alongside it for at least a couple years have seen a dramatic shift in structure over a very short period of time. Papers don’t sell like they used to, especially when everyone expects information to be readily available and free (and advertisers don’t want to pay for something that not many people see), so the business model has had to change with the times.

Over the last three years, just about every major news outlet in New York City has effectively gutted its staff. The New York Times, the New York Post, The Village Voice, and WBAI radio, each fired at least a third of its staff, and the list continues. The New York Daily News, once renowned for its coverage of local stories, dissolved each of its bureaus situated in the outer boroughs. So what does that mean for reporters? Is journalism a dead profession whose practitioners are SOL, or is there more to the story?

I’ve debated this with friends, colleagues and media contacts alike. Some see the future as relatively bleak: without the large papers, etc. providing job security, writers are forced to scrape together an existence piece-meal as freelancers, with meager earnings for individual stories. On the other hand, this phenomenon has also given rise to countless blogs and websites – often specific to certain topics. Some of them act just the same as a brick and mortar outlet, minus the paper. It’s a whole wide web out there, and we are learning to adjust our perception of where we go for our news.

Meanwhile, we hold our reporters accountable for a lot more than we did previously. Not only does the internet’s never-ending clamor for information mean that we want our news NOW, 24/7, which sort of rules out a regular-hours kind of gig; we also assume journalists will constantly update their social media pages at the same time. Our impatience means that many outlets are no longer willing to let their employees spend the time and resources on long-term investigative reporting (this is less recent than some of the other changes). What would have happened if Woodward and Bernstein couldn’t do the research needed to back up one of the biggest national stories of the 20th Century because they had to live tweet a celebrity event?

Ironically, while we expect a lot from our news sources, all this pressure – the financial stress, the extra duties for full-time reporters, the tighter deadlines, and the global marketplace – has led to a common response: cut back on both the quantity and quality of their product. After all, it’s quicker and cheaper to stream headline feeds from other outlets than to focus on (wo)man-on-the-street stories.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who bemoans this loss, and some fields have seen a resurgence in thorough reportage. New York Magazine, for instance, just published the horrific story about Bill Cosby’s victims, in which it interviewed each of the women – not a trivial task when 35 of them have come forward to speak.

There are still jobs for enterprising writers and quality information is still out there, you just have to look harder – and know what you’re looking for. It’s less likely that you’ll stumble across a serious exposé about such and such as you fold your paper to make room for your breakfast and coffee, but hey – given how much time we spend collectively browsing the internet for interesting tidbits and “sharing” them, maybe all hope is not lost.

Warning: Are Parks and Open Spaces Up for Grabs? Are We Slowly Taking the Public Out of the Public Trust?

We’ve been working with the many groups and people opposed to NYU’s ridiculous, bloated and unneeded expansion plan for some time now. Our main client, NYUFASP, represents hundreds of professors and faculty within NYU who are also against the plan; this, in itself, speaks volumes about what an awful plan it is: one that will crush the Village and abolish some much needed green and open spaces with it.

There was a lawsuit filed in 2012 against the plan. One of the main aspects of the lawsuit was that the green spaces that would be bulldozed by the plan are public parks, and, therefore, under the tenets of the Public Trust Doctrine, cannot be simply “given away” for development. That doctrine, which dates back to the time of the Roman Empire, is a crucial part of America’s common law tradition. According to the Doctrine, the government holds the titles to certain waters and lands in trust for the people; this has evolved to extend protection to scenic resources, open space in general, energy generation, preservation of ecosystems and historical sites.

In New York State, if an entity wishes to develop or remove a parcel of parkland from public ownership and use, it must follow a legal process called “alienation,” which, among other conditions, requires approval from the state legislature.

This lawsuit wound its way through the court system and, ultimately, came before the state’s highest court, the NYS Court of Appeals. A few weeks ago, we found out that we’d lost the case.

Reading the Court’s decision left me wondering whether we had somehow travelled to the “doublespeak”-laden parallel universe of Orwell’s 1984. Although it’s true that some of the parks in question never “formally” became part of the Parks Department, at least a couple of them did, in fact, have parks department signage, were maintained by the Parks Department, and were listed on the Parks Department’s website. In addition, one of the parks was actually dedicated – about two decades ago – by the Parks Commissioner at that time, Henry Stern (who, by the way, gave our side an amicus brief detailing the fact that, yes, that’s really a park). This would mean that they were, quite obviously, implied parkland, and that they’d be protected under the Public Trust Doctrine. Not only would they be protected, but they couldn’t be given away for development unless approved by the state legislature. Even then, the developer would have to “give back” to the community the same amount of open space as was taken.

Importantly, the whole community has used those spaces as parks, some for decades. But, apparently, if it looks like a parks, acts like a park, and is used like a park it’s….not. Here’s just part of what the court said, “That a portion of the public may have believed that these parcels are permanent parkland does not warrant a contrary result.” This means that although the public (and, really, not just a part of the public, but ANYONE passing by these parks would think they’re parks) actually thought these were parks, it does not mean that they were/are. Huh? If the Public Trust Doctrine is there to protect public lands, including parks, and if the public has used those lands as parks, and believed them to be parks – for decades – how could they be declared NOT parks? This is a scary precedent.

In better news, however, the folks in Queens fighting the erection of a shopping mall in Willets Point, next to Citifield (home stadium of the Mets), successfully used the Public Trust Doctrine in a lawsuit to stop the mall. The land that developers wanted to build on is public land that was specifically slated to be used only for stadium purposes; clearly, a shopping mall is not consistent with that usage. The lower court ruled in favor of the petitioners – Willets Point shop owners, the City Club of New York and State Senator Tony Avella (D-Queens). “Today’s decision sends a message loud and clear — our parks are not for sale,” said State Senator Avella. You can read the full story here.

We wish that Senator Avella’s words were true. Apparently, in the rush toward unfettered development in this city, public lands are, indeed, in jeopardy, and the courts can’t be counted on to side with the public. What’s worse is that, although many elected officials sided with the public in both the NYU case and the Citifield/Willets Point case, the City of New York itself, in both instances, sided with the developers. In the NYU case, the City continued to oppose the public’s stance even when the suit went to the Court of Appeals. Now the question is whether or not the City will be part of the inevitable appeal that developers will file in the Citifield/Willets Point case.

Under the guise of “controlling” City owned property, the City is clearly attempting to violate the Public Trust Doctrine, and is taking away one of the few protections that the public has to save public spaces, parks, and waterways in a time of rampant development. To say that it’s disappointing is an understatement.

Meanwhile, more evidence has arisen that even when developers are ordered to keep their hands off public spaces, they don’t always comply.

In Monday, July 14th’s NY Times column, “The Appraisal,” journalist Matt Chaban uncovered how Donald Trump is now selling Trump wares in a part of his Trump Tower in Manhattan that is supposed to be a dedicated public space. Mr. Chaban explains that, as part of a deal to let developers build larger buildings back in 1961, the City required that a certain amount of the developed space be open to the public. If Trump is in violation of his deal, I wonder how many other developers have done the same. Advocates have tried for years, to get the Trump situation fixed, but clearly, there is no real enforcement against these kinds of encroachments onto public spaces. Trump was fined $2500 for the infringement back in 2008 (a trifling price for Trump), but no other action ensued. You can read Chaban’s excellent piece here.

What does this all mean? I think it’s clear that public spaces are increasingly up for grabs. This is especially true now, when developments – mostly for the wealthy – are overtaking just about every neighborhood in the City. It’s also obvious that the City is clearly disinterested in angering developers, since the City is hoping it can persuade developers to build more affordable housing. (And that’s a subject for another day…)

While, of course, all developments aren’t bad, this slow erosion of the Public Trust Doctrine – with the City’s hearty assent – coupled with little or no enforcement when developers fail to comply with public space agreements, potentially adds up to fewer parks, gardens, and green and open spaces for the people of New York City. In a city where developments are rising higher and higher, blocking out the sun and dwarfing other buildings, and where the ratio of open space to people is among the worst of America’s big cities – 4.6 acres per 1,000 residents (Trust for Public Land 2014 City Park Facts), we can ill afford to let this trend continue.

Latest Client News July 24, 2014: Great News on Affordable Housing

Here’s our latest news of victory: culminating an 11 year struggle, and following weeks of intense negotiations, our clients — BrooklynSpeaks sponsor organizations and local residents recently announced they have reached a landmark settlement about affordable housing with Forest City Ratner Corporation (FCRC), the developer of the contentious Atlantic Yards Project in Brooklyn, and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), with the support of the City of New York. The agreement at Atlantic Yards has been a long time coming, and we’re very pleased to have helped work towards this resolution. Now that a consensus has finally been reached, it provides a great starting point for discussion of affordable housing within New York City.

Mayor de Blasio has been very clear about his emphasis on affordable housing during his term, and this new accord, which promises timely delivery of affordable housing and real developer accountability, potentially presents a good template for such projects moving forward.

The new agreement at Atlantic Yards fueled a storm of press coverage, including a piece in the New York Times!

Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

A brief summary of the settlement: Under the terms of the agreement, construction on the first of the affordable units will begin by the end of the year, and a full total of 2,250 affordable apartments must be completed by May 2025 – ten years earlier than previously agreed.

It also establishes an Atlantic Yards Tenant Protection Fund and penalties for failure to meet affordable housing milestones. The newly-created Fund, which is expected to be administered by the Brooklyn Community Foundation, will provide grants to local nonprofit organizations offering eviction prevention and anti-displacement services to low and moderate income residents of Brooklyn community districts 2, 3, 6 and 8. (Read more about the Tenant Protection Fund here.) Many lower and working class families – especially African Americans – are getting priced out of their neighborhoods due to escalating rents and costs of living exacerbated, ironically, by the construction of Atlantic Yards’ Barclay Center. Gentrification around Atlantic Yards is rapidly changing the face of nearby communities; African Americans comprised 52% of the population of the combined area of the districts surrounding Atlantic Yards (Community Boards 2, 3, 6 and 8) in 2000, but represented only 40% in 2010. A study of current demographic trends has found that African Americans will represent only 15% of the population by 2035, the outside date by which the housing was originally required to be finished.

Importantly, the settlement will also result in the creation of the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the ESDC charged with overseeing compliance with all project commitments; it will enforce real penalties for failure to meet construction deadlines.

To view the full agreement with ESDC, click here. For a complete explanation of the settlement and copies of all its components, click here.

To read more of the press coverage about this deal, please click on the following links:

Capital New York – here, here, and here
Crain’s – here and here
Curbed
DNAinfo
Gothamist
Law 360
Newsday

*NY1
*NY Daily News

Observer
The Real Deal
WCBS
*WNYC
WSJ

*Denotes an article or segment that we especially liked.

 

Latest Client News – Week of February 10, 2014

Black History Month continues, and we are happy to note that Barbara Winslow’s new biography of Shirley Chisholm is quickly gaining recognition.

The book, Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change, is the first in over 40 years, and the only one to cover the later part of Ms. Chisholm’s life. Ms. Chisholm, who was the nation’s first African American woman elected to Congress and the first to run for President, fought for equal pay, access to education, universal child care and many other issues that still resonate today. In fact, the US Post Office just came out with a stamp in her honor!

And it appears that news about the new book is spreading fast, and journalists, scholars and the general public are taking notice.

Tonight, Friday, February 14th, Barbara will join Shola Lynch, director of the documentary Shirley Chisholm: Unbought and Unbossed on Errol LouisInside City Hall show on NY1. They will discuss Ms. Chisholm’s legacy, her importance in today’s world, and how her current acclaim differs from how she was received by her contemporaries. Tune in tonight, Friday at 7pm or 10pm, or watch for the online link after the show airs.

Barbara will also appear this Sunday, February 16th @ noon on ABC-TV’s Here and Now show to talk with host Sandra Bookman about the book, why parts of it prompt such anger and frustration among many readers, and what it means to bring Ms. Chisholm’s story out of the dry world of trivia facts, into the light of present-day notice.

The book has been getting noticed in print and online too.  The New York Times’  Sam Roberts highlighted the biography in his latest book selection column on February 6th. The Park Slope Patch interviewed Barbara about the Chisholm Project at Brooklyn College, and her inspiration to write the book.  The Brooklyn Paper also interviewed Barbara about her quest to keep Ms. Chisholm’s name and significance fresh in current history, and the role she sees the detailed and enlightening book playing in remedying the gap in our collective memory.  The site Truthout also offered their own, very positive review of the book.

We hope you’ll check out these stories, and tune in for Barbara’s television appearances! The book is available on all the main online stores, like Amazon, as well as in kindle ebook format.