Monday, September 17, 2012

NY Times Runs 3rd Article Mentioning That, Given Scandal, Promotionally Naming Subway Stations & Arena “Barclays” Is Problematic

Today the New York Times ran its third article including a mention of an obvious elephant in the media stream world: That promotionally christening of MTA subway stations and the heavily susbisidized Forest City Ratner/Mikhail Prokhorov “Barclays,” the name of the British Bank whose name is virtually synonymous with the LIBOR rate-fixing scandal of which that bank is a big part, could be awkward.  See: New Territory for Ads, With a Moving Target, by David W. Dunlap, September 16, 2012.

The Times first two articles mentioning the awkwardness of the promotional appliqué of the “Barclays” scandal-associated name to New York Subway station hubs and a private basketball arena being located in Brownstone Brooklyn mostly paid for with abusive subsidies and public give-aways were precisely about the awkwardness of the scandal association although those article skipped any concurrent mention of the scandal of the arena’s subsidization.  The earlier Times articles mentioning the awkwardness ran, in quick secession, over the Fourth of July holiday, see: Investment Banking/| Legal/regulatory July 3, 2012, What’s in a Stadium Name? Often Trouble for a Company, by William Alden and Sports Business:arena Names Can Spell Embarrassment, by Richard Sandomir, July 4, 2012, previously written about by Noticing New York here: Wednesday, August 15, 2012, With Discordant Synchronicity The “Barclays” Center Will Open At LIBOR Scandal’s Peak: What The New York Times Is And Isn’t Covering.

The now three mentions of the “Barclays” name awkwardness come amidst a sea of New York Times articles stenographically cheerleading the “Barclays” Ratner/Prokhorov arena opening and other articles of national and local interest about the LIBOR/Barclays Bank scandal itself that somehow fail to mention the awkwardness posed by the interconnections.  The Times has just begun to report that local New York government officials are likely to be among those suing Barclays among the banks involved in the scandal but have not yet pointed out how likely it is that the local New York government officials suing Barclays may have among them a very high proportion of the very same officials directing subsidy into Atlantic Yards and the arena promotionally endorsing the name “Barclays.” (See: Friday, August 17, 2012, The New York Times Starts Reporting That New York Government Officials Are Looking At Suing Barclays Bank- Leading to. . . ?)

The occasion for the third mention of the Barclays name awkwardness is an article about how rampant advertising is ubiquitously taking over MTA surfaces, in subway stations, on buses, on Metrocards.  As the article mentions that includes the sale of subway station naming rights, and cites the renaming of the Brooklyn subway hub stations “Barclays” as an example.  The article does not mention that the “Barclays” renaming of the stations is the initial spearhead for any such practice or that the MTA board authorized the sale of those naming rights for a mere pittance, without any apparent thought, as part of a rigged deal to pile further benefit on developer Forest City Ratner, to whom the Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly was bequeathed without competitive bid.

The article’s first mention of Barclays Bank makes it look like it will gloss over the bank’s LIBOR scandal just as the promotional naming of the arena assists in doing so every day:
Then there are naming rights: for $200,000 a year, the authority has added the designation “Barclays Center” to the name of the Atlantic Avenue stations in Brooklyn. The measure is one part customer service — the new arena by that name is a block away — and two parts marketing, as the arena and stations now carry the name of a giant international financial services company.  
The “name of a giant international financial services company,” without treading anywhere near the line of a libelously LIBOR mention, is probably an unduly respectful descriptive shorthand for the bank under its present-day circumstances.  But before getting annoyed with this, take into account that the pulled punch in this regard was probably intended by the reporter so that the article’s concluding paragraphs could have the full benefit of the final punch intended.  I will get to that in a moment.

The print article has one visual showing how the subway stations are now labeled “Barclays.” The slide show accompanying the article on the web has two visuals (out of eight) with three such visuals of the "Barclays" naming out of the total of thirteen visuals included in the web version of the article.

Noticing New York has written before about the significant negative implications of government sale of its own and public assets for commercial branding: Friday, June 29, 2012, Government Gets Branded.  And Noticing new York has also written about how, in recently reporting about such corporate branding, the Times has neglected to delve into the underlying policy issues even though in similar coverage back in 2004 it considered it worthwhile to do so.

Today’s article in the Times does include discussion of the basic policy question although briefer than the 2004 article.  It suggests these MTA sales communicate to the public a lack of governmental agency self respect:
    But revenues come with a cost of their own, suggested Siva Vaidhyanathan, the chairman of the media studies department at the University of Virginia.

    “We’ve gotten to the point now where the M.T.A. doesn’t respect its own environment and is filling it with sight pollution,” he said in a phone interview. “A bright yellow subway car, branded to sell something, is not comfortable, it’s not respectful and it’s not dignified.”

    “Environmentally, the city should be paying attention to dignity as a quality-of-life indicator,” Professor Vaidhyanathan said.
The discussion of policy would have had more bite had the reporter pointed out that, even with this sort of all-out push on selling every possible surface space for advertising, the total amount of money the MTA gets from advertising on the subway, on buses, on its two commuter railroads and on billboards along its routes is  exceptionally small in relative terms: The article says it is expected to be $120 million this year, whereas the MTA’s annual budget is about $12.5 billion, possibly headed to about $13.1 billion. The $2-$3 billion in subsidies being given, without bid, to the Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly might begin to compare with this figure, but not this small amount from advertising revenue.

Professor Vaidhyanathan is quoted again in the penultimate paragraph of the article echoing concerns Noticing New York has steadily kept front and center in writing about the tragedy of the publicly paid for promotion of the “Barclays” name:
    Professor Vaidhyanathan, for one, would like to see some more restraint. He bristled at the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center name. “What happens if Barclays is convicted of massive fraud in the Libor scandal?” he asked. “What happens if Barclays goes out of business?”
Barclays may, indeed, go out of business but professor Vaidhyanathan’s other “what if” is just a tad off: Barclays has already entered into a  £290m ($450m) fine agreement with the United States and Great Britain for manipulating LIBOR rates.  Its manipulation is already acknowledged by that agreement and the payment of the fine, but one purpose of the bank’s payment of that fine was to preclude criminal prosecution and conviction of the bank.  Nevertheless, Barclays traders and possibly Barclays executives are likely to be criminally prosecuted, possibly convicted, separately.

Notwithstanding that this is the third Times article with a conceding mentioning that the publicly-financed parading of the “Barclays” name is obviously awkward, the sober observance of that fact in three articles is far outweighed by the many more celebratory articles the Times is running about the opening of the new “Barclays” center including the one featured on the front page of its special-edition Sunday Styles Magazine proclaiming Jay-Z in its front-cover caption to be civic-minded for promoting the arena, scandalous history and scandalous name “Barclays” name notwithstanding.
The Times has launched into its promotions without mention of its business relationship with the arena’s developer.  Furthermore, the Times’ relentless promotion of the developer/subsidy collector’s Atlantic Yards from its unveiling forward probably tipped the balance for the materialization of a boondoggle that is costly to the public in so many ways.  Such being the “Times Effect” on this issue, the clever casualness of the article’s conclusion equating of the naming of the subway transit hubs after “Barclays” with the naming of “Times Square” could be considered somewhat chilling-  because there is less coincidence than implied:
    Alternately, however, what if the bank and the new name show some staying power? After all, “Times Square” seems to have caught on.   

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