New York City News Hunt Results
The week of March 29, 2010, we hosted our first Local News Hunt on New York City, to examine how the news media cover the recession and its impact on the city and its residents (see our earlier blog post).
Our partners for this pilot were the Huffington Post's NYC portal, its Eyes and Ears citizen journalism team, as well as the New York City magazine City Limits. Our community hosts for this News Hunt were Kristin Gorski, Jon Mitchell and Beth Wellington, who also wrote the detailed findings and news comparisons below. Kaizar Campwala was managing editor.
Together, we posted 186 news and opinion stories about New York City, 61 of which received a NewsTrust rating. For a full listing of stories reviewed in this News Hunt, check all our rated stories, as well as our most trusted stories and least trusted stories, published between March 21 and April 5, 2010.
We found some great journalism about the impact of the recession on New York, from a wide variety of sources, both mainstream and independent, with a mix of straight news reports, features and analysis (news), as well as editorials, opinions, essays and interviews (opinion). The news stories were rated on a different set of criteria than opinions, as described in our review guide.
Here are the results of this New York News Hunt.
Most Trusted Stories
For this News Hunt, our community reviewed stories from 78 different news sources, focusing how the recession is affecting the New York City residents.
Here are some of our most trusted stories:
- New York's Ten Worst Landlords - Village Voice
- Uncommon Economic Indicators - WNYC
- Getting From Here To There - City Limits
- Facing Financial Pinch, Young Adults Move Back Home - New York Times
- Building on Health Reform Momentum, NYC Workers Push for Paid Sick Days - In These Times
- In Brooklyn, Mortgage Crisis Eats Away Wealth of Several Generations of Hispanics - El Diario
- Stimulus Funding Breathes New Life Into Brooklyn Family Center - Brooklyn Ink
- Will Electric Cars Give New York a Charge? - Gotham Gazette
- Payment delays on school jobs vex contractors - Your Nabe
- New York Hospitals Under the Knife - Wall Street Journal
- Into the void - New York Post
- Elder Abuse Programs Must Be Saved - Gotham Gazette
- Can New York be Saved? - New York Times
Least Trusted Stories
As part of our News Hunt, we also looked for bad journalism, including lazy reporting or misinformation. Here are a few of the more egregious offenders we found:
- IT voucher program looks to brighten job horizon -- NY1
- New York is Broke & Broken - New York Post
- New York City Public Schools Launching 'Trayless Tuesdays' - Associated Press
- State Senator Calls For NY To 'Stop The Sag' - WCBS-TV
Findings by Medium
Each day of the News Hunt, we compared stories from different media: major dailies and wire services on Monday, independent newspapers and magazines on Tuesday, TV and Radio sources on Wednesday, online sites and blogs Thursday, and hyperlocal sites and neighborhood papers on Friday. We devoted Saturday to featuring examples of bad journalism across media type. Here's what we found, day by day:
Major Dailies and Wire Services
National wire services and New York City's major dailies covered a range of recession-related topics. A highly rated New York Daily News article described how Bronxites must travel to other boroughs to visit food pantries. The Wall Street Journal explained how the Trump SoHo development's "glitz" is fading. The New York Post featured a compelling, first-person job-loss account written by a former editor in the hard-hit book publishing industry. NewsTrust reviewer Martha Rosler captured NYC's ubiquitous economic disparities in her comment on "Into the Void": "Just taken as it is, it is excellent—a well-written New York account of getting lucky after losing a job in a white-collar field that is imploding. But it is very class- and caste-specific." The Big Apple's stratified levels of socio-economic status, exacerbated by the recession, seemed accurately reflected in this coverage from the different media outlets we reviewed.
Independent Newspapers and Magazines
We reviewed a number of stories about the recession from independent publications. Emily Keller's "Getting From Here To There" from City Limits covered concrete alternatives to multiple cuts faced by many working class neighborhoods. Kristin Gorski praised how Keller included "reps from...grassroots organizations...that often don't get quoted." Patricia L'Herrou liked the "specific relevant information."
Eva Sanchis's series in the Spanish language paper El Diario La Prensa, reported on the mortgage crisis for Hispanic homeowners in Brooklyn "who contributed to Bushwick’s rebirth from poverty and crime following the 1977 blackout...[and now] face the loss of the only wealth accumulated during a lifetime." Jon Mitchell found the "multimedia approach ... really hits home both factually and emotionally."
We also recommend Elizabeth Dwoskin's entertaining piece in The Village Voice "New York's Ten Worst Landlords" and Michelle Chen's, "NYC Workers Push for Paid Sick Days" from Chicago's In These Times magazine.
Television and Radio
As home to many of the country's most influential media companies, it's no surprise that New York City is covered by a wide range of TV and radio news sources, both national and local, public and private. We reviewed stories from across this spectrum, and recommend these four stories, each of which shows a different aspect of the city in recession.
Non-profit public radio station WNYC explored the impact of the MTA's decision to lay off 450 subway station agents, telling the story through a range of personal interviews. This piece was controversial among NewsTrust reviewers; Curt Barnes called it "good grassroots journalism," while Martha Rosler thought it a "shallow... human interest story."
On the national TV program Democracy Now, a panel discussion on the merits of charter schools brought together concerned parents, activists, educators, and public officials for a tense, sometimes heated discussion.
In local TV news, ABC affiliate WABC gave a remarkable 25-minute special report on finding jobs in the city. Reviewers gave it high marks for thoroughness and appreciated its high production value for a local news channel.
One of the most engaging TV pieces from the News Hunt was "Close to Home", an hour-long special from PBS's Frontline. Through interviews at an Upper East Side hair salon, producer Ofra Bikel weaves an intimate story of how the recession has impacted New Yorkers at all levels of society.
Online News Sites and Blogs
We reviewed a number of New York City's many blog posts and stories from online-only publications. Bobbie Sackman and Mara Schecter in Gotham Gazette asked about Mayor Bloomberg's plan to eliminate funding of non-profit elder abuse programs: "What will happen to the 80 percent...not eligible [for public services]?" Elizabeth White-Nadler found their arguments "compelling... One million dollars is a relatively small amount... there are economic reasons to continue the funding in addition to the obvious moral ones.”
Women's Voices for Change published Diane Vacca's account of Nancy Ikeda who "sold her house in October, put the contents in storage, packed her two cats into the car and drove to New York City” to move into her daughter's studio apartment” reversing the trend for young adults to move in with parents.
John Petro, in Drum Major Institute's blog, opined "As New York City emerges from this recession...city officials must find a way for developers to contribute to financing new infrastructure." And on April Fools' Day, we featured this humorous fake news release from the Develop--Don't Destroy Brooklyn blog on the Atlantic Yards construction, "The Arena Can Wait. Affordable Housing Now!"
Hyperlocal Sites and Neighborhood Newspapers
We also looked for "hyperlocal" stories about the recession in each of New York City's five boroughs, where coverage varied widely. Manhattan news was ubiquitous, and Brooklyn boasts an impressive range of competing neighborhood newspapers and blogs. But coverage of the recession was more scarce in other boroughs. For example, the Staten Island Advance was the only consistent source of news on this topic which we could find from "the forgotten borough".
The Brooklyn Paper was one of many NYC sources to cover the MTA's planned cutbacks in subways and bus routes, but this local weekly paper did an exceptional job providing both local impacts and bottom-line data for Brooklynites.
However, some of the hyperlocal papers were so centered around their neighborhoods that it seemed to skew their reporting. This coverage of the effects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on jobs in the Bronx from the Riverdale Press contended that unspecified "people who are convicted criminals and... poor people" were receiving stimulus aid denied to unemployed people in Riverdale and Kingsbridge. While the article made the case that these Bronx neighborhoods indeed have high unemployment, it was scant on real information about other areas.
One of our goals for this News Hunt was to identify "bad journalism" (e.g.: stories that are particularly superficial, biased or irresponsible). We found a number of questionable stories, which shared common characteristics.
The New York Post editorial "New York is Broke & Broken" offers no original perspectives and is not persuasive in presenting its arguments, with no logical thread.
The NY1 TV report "IT Voucher Program Looks to Brighten Job Horizon" reads like a press release for Microsoft, features no objective sourcing, context, or comparison to make the story verifiable or compelling. Reviewer David Ziegenhagen comments: “This is pap journalism, an obvious advertorial that the writer fell or bought into.”
The New York Daily News report "Queens politicians rally around jobs creation" is only four sentences long, lacks substantial facts, quotations from key stakeholders, context and valid sourcing.
This unfortunate "genre" of "bad journalism" appears regularly, misinforming and confusing those who read it, containing little to help news users make sense of their world. Its authors do not follow basic tenets of journalism, even though they are often seasoned and well-known journalists.
Throughout the 186 news stories we found on the effects of the recession in New York, there were several themes that news organizations returned to again and again. Across media types, we saw multiple stories about public transportations cuts, reductions in government services and unemployment.
Here are some brief news comparisons on these important public issues for New Yorkers.
Jobs and Unemployment
New York City's unemployment rate has hovered above 10 percent during much of this recession, but unemployment has declined slightly since January. Our News Hunt turned up plenty of stories about persistent joblessness in the city, cutting across demographic lines, but we also learned about many innovative efforts to create jobs and retrain workers for new opportunities.
Two reports from local cable news channel NY1 cover job training programs that teach fundamental skills for 21st century workers. One profiles a Bronx organization that retrains former inmates for "green" jobs, and the other outlines Microsoft's new "Elevate America" program, which provides vouchers to teach job seekers essential computer skills (note that we consider this second report to be 'bad journalism,' as outlined above). Local TV provided much of the positive coverage of employment that we found during the News Hunt. WABC's special report on jobs goes to great lengths to cover a range of job opportunities and tips for finding work.
Unfortunately, many of these positive stories seemed to treat their subjects too lightly, and our reviewers found them lacking in journalistic substance. The gritty stories of unemployment and underemployment tended to get the highest ratings on this topic. One standout example from the New York Times is this investigation into the stagnant pay of city sewage workers. It combines human interest with thorough historical inquiry, looking critically at both the city and the unions.
Our partners at City Limits gave us a deeply researched story on jobs that looks toward the future. It considers various perspectives on how to train New York's young people for the workforce. The tension in this story is over whether to train youth for existing jobs right now or prepare them for future careers. That conflict between short-term fixes and long-term planning underscores some key issues about this recession.
How New Yorkers move throughout the city greatly affects their quality of life. A constant theme arose on this recession-related News Hunt: consequences of recent cuts in service by the city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), made in an attempt to balance city and state budgets.
Many neighborhood-specific bloggers and publications from across the five boroughs – like TheVillager.com, the Bronx Times Reporter, and BrooklynPaper.com – reported on what would happen if bus lines are either rerouted dramatically or eliminated entirely; these pieces contributed solid ground-level portraits of citizens left without ways to get to work, school, shopping, family/friends, and medical services. Reviewer Patricia L'Herrou commented on one story: “...Included are examples of individuals among the thousands who will be affected by this, in their need to find new transportation or do without. It appears that those who are elderly and/or disabled will be most affected.”
New York City's local NPR affiliate WNYC told about disappearing station agents, often the only MTA employees offering assistance and guidance to wayward or needy straphangers in the city's vast subway system.
While the major dailies, wire services, and local TV news outfits also covered the transit cuts, their reporting has routinely mentioned only the most general facts of the issue. Independent online paper City Limits distinguished itself by offering practical and informative advice on transportation alternatives – with plenty of links to additional sources – as part of its original analysis of MTA-cuts worst-case scenarios.
These stories show how crucial public transportation is to the city's overall health and spirit. Those most negatively affected by transportation cuts live in the outer boroughs, often in areas farthest from the main hub of Manhattan; these New Yorkers would bear the greatest hardship of this recession, as their lives and livelihood would be most directly affected.
Cuts in City Services
We found many sources examining the effects of the city's fiscal policy during the recession in areas other than transportation. While the Wall Street Journal covered budget cuts to hospitals, Brooklyn Ink's Jack Mirkinson wrote about the positive effects of stimulus funding to Brownsville Multi-Service Family Health Center, which Assemblyman William Boyland said had been founded "at a time when there was no health care." Reviewer Lynn Caporale provides insight on how managed care poaches on public health and neighborhood clinics and suggests, "I would have liked more context about that somewhere in this article on this important topic."
Bronx Ink's Sunil Joshi wrote about public funding secured by Union Grove Church for affordable housing.
Many sources covered the emergence of the Progressive Caucus on City Council--an attempt to influence Mayor Bloomberg's fiscal policies. David W. Chen wrote for the New York Times and the co-founders explained in The Nation, "Bloomberg...has done little to confront inequality, preferring....a trickle-down economic approach. [He's failed]... to partner with New Yorkers in developing solutions." A caucus member submitted a bill for paid sick leave, as noted by New Yorker Michelle Chen. Reviewer Chris Finnie praised Chen's "spot-on" writing. "I've had experience on this issue as an employer and an employee ... Not only do sick employees risk the health of customers, but of fellow employees. The productivity loss can be enormous -- much more than if one sick employee took a few days off." Ben Ross added, "Rare reminder in the press of the crumby condition which is everyday life for most of the people..."
Some stories questioned fiscal priorities: the Gotham Gazette regarding cuts to elder abuse programs and Erin MacCarthy's on shortages at Bronx food pantries in the NY Daily News. Marcus A. Winters, in Manhattan Institute's City Journal made thoughtful suggestions for better use of education funds than indiscriminately firing teachers. The New York Times covered poor fiscal controls over spending for the homeless.
Thanks to our partners
We'd like to thank our partners at the Huffington Post's NYC portal, its Eyes and Ears citizen journalism team, as well as the as well as the New York City magazine City Limits. Both partners went out of their way to promote this News Hunt to their readers in New York City, bringing in thousands of visitors and over a hundred new members to participate in this experiment. It was a pleasure to work with Huffington Post citizen journalism editor Adam Clark Estes and New York City editor David Weiner, who helped organize this project and spread the word in their community. We're also grateful to City Limits publisher Walter Fields and project manager Mark Thomas for their great contributions to this project.
This project was made possible in part by a generous grant from Omidyar Network, which is funding a six-month investigation of new ways to help people separate fact from fiction online. We're very grateful for their support, as well as to our other backers at the MacArthur Foundation and Ashoka.
Thanks to our reviewers
Our deepest appreciation goes to our amazing hosts Kristin Gorski, Jon Mitchell and Beth Wellington, for their tireless work in finding and reviewing so many stories about New York City. We also greatly appreciate their detailed findings and news comparisons: Kristin wrote the sections on Major Dailies, Bad Journalism and Public Transportation; Jon wrote about TV/Radio, Hyperlocal and Jobs; and Beth wrote about Independents, Online/Blogs and Cuts in City Services. Thank you all for your hard work and great insights!
Last but not least, we're grateful to our NewsTrust reviewers for participating in this first Local News Hunt, particularly those who do not live in New York but contributed anyway to this important experiment.
Join the Global Economy News Hunt
Now that we have covered the local effects of the recession, we would like to turn our focus to its global impact. How is the economic crisis affecting people around the world?
To find out, join our Global Economy News Hunt, starting April 19, 2010. For a week, we will look for the best and worst news coverage on the human impact of the global recession, using NewsTrust as a ‘story bank’ for this topic. Our partners for this News Hunt are Global Voices and Link TV, as well as 90 students from San Francisco’s International High School.
Hope you will be able to participate in this exciting pilot as well. See you online!
What do you think?
We would love to hear your thoughts about this first Local News Hunt -- or NewsTrust in general. To share your views, please leave a comment below, or email us.
-- by Kaizar Campwala, Fabrice Florin, Kristin Gorski, Jon Mitchell and Beth Wellington
Photo: Heymynameispaul / Flickr