On Monday, Rupert Murdoch made it clear that he thinks the NY Times is detached from its city. Most everyday, Times readers can detect some of that detachment.
In today’s Times, as a follow-up to yesterday’s front page account on the Federal Superfunding of Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal area, the Times attempts to reflect — slowly and with too many words and too few facts — on changes around the Gowanus.
I know this area well, having published The Brooklyn Paper there for 30 years. The canal is sandwiched between upscale neighborhoods; what “grit” remains was destined to be overrun soon by development. Just as the nearby neighborhoods were “gentrified” over the last 30 years, the canal zone would fall to the capitalists’ tools.
Only the canal’s toxicity and last year’s real estate collapse put those plans on hold. The Gowanus neighborhood shrank so fast (squeezed by the expansion of its richer neighbors) that, if you excluded two public housing projects, there wasn’t much left of it as a distinct area. Plans for a Whole Foods supermarket one block east of the canal would have sealed the deal on that end; on the west bank, a major developer’s plans for housing was moving forward.
So, with squalor constrained and everyone long ago on notice that the neighborhood was changing, who did Times reporter Kareem Fahim find to give the area its face today? A street hooker who bemoans the fact that her streets just aren’t the same anymore, that her customers have moved away.
Here’s Fahim’s lead:
The rain had stopped; the streets were empty. A block from the Gowanus Canal, a woman called Terri squinted into the headlights of passing cars, searched for clients and found none.
Her head was wrapped in a powder-blue scarf. The white towers of the Wyckoff Houses rose behind her. She had worked these streets in Brooklyn for years, as the neighborhood turned from a rusty industrial hub into a budding art colony, and lately, a draw for developers dreaming of condominiums.
For Terri, little good had come of all that change. “The people moving in here don’t patronize us,” she said, and got back to work, a half hour before midnight.
Do Fahim’s editors think that the crime-ridden, street-hooking Gowanus of yesteryear is preferable to what’s there today, and that instead of cleaning the canal officials should work to create a favorable work environment (financially, if not environmentally and for safety’s sake) for its prostitutes and thugs?
Local readers of the Times already know that the Gowanus has changed; streetwalkers may still work its dark corners, flagging down drive-through tricks, but they are not a part of their ‘hood anymore.
Here’s some unsolicited advice to the Times — and also to those who are organizing the Journal’s New York desk:
Hire editors who know the streets of New York and the people of New York, who are not afraid to work, and who will think and speak [excuse the coming cliche] out of the box.
Someone like the current editor at my old newspaper, Gersh Kuntzman.
Disclosure: Kuntzman did not ask for and was not advised of this endorsement. His newspaper (The Brooklyn Paper) is owned by NewsCorp’s Community Newspaper Group, a sister of Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, to whom I sold The Brooklyn Paper last year. I’m extremely proud of the work he’s done there both under my ownership and under that of the Community Newspaper Group, and I would empathize with my colleagues at The Brooklyn Paper — especially my wife who is The Brooklyn Paper’s publisher — over the loss of Kuntzman were he successfully recruited. I realize, however, that with the Times is in its death throes and the with Journal determined to secure a future for the news business, there’s a lot is riding on the coming fight in New York. Both sides should choose their weapons well.
ADDENDUM: The Brooklyn Paper made hay yesterday — over the fact that its Website beat the Times in breaking the Federal Superfund story, and over the fact that the Times accompanied its [late] story with the photo of the wrong Brooklyn waterway (the Times pictured Newtown Creek instead of the Gowanus Canal). The Brooklyn Paper’s headline: “Hey, NY Times — get our filthy canals right!”
The canal photo that accompanies this post is, in fact, of the Gowanus Canal, and is from The Brooklyn Paper, by Kate Emerson.
Post was slightly updated at 4:06 pm ET, with references to Newsday’s New York fiasco removed. That’s a whole ‘nother story, for another day.