Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Media and Activists: Putting The News Of The Jay-Z Concert Opening Of The “Barclays” Center In Context

Could we, over the past weeks, have been more awash in well-financed hoopla for the opening of the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” (LIBOR) Center arena?  (The hoopla is paid for by the taxes the arena doesn't pay--- The arena pays no taxes.)

I was amongst those protesting outside Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” (LIBOR) Center arena on the Friday night of its celebratory opening with a Jay-Z concert.

Before the concert, the new plaza was filled with lines of people waiting to go into the Jay-Z event at the moment right before the arena’s doors were opened. They reached almost into the new subway entrance.  (Earlier in the day the plaza belonged more to the protestors who were now outnumbered.)  Media people were also in the crowd, milling around with TV cameras and microphones looking for what they could report about the long-hyped event.

Then the doors opened and in virtually no time the plaza largely cleared, leaving again the protestors and the media now high and dry of concert fans.  This is when one of the network reporters proceeded directly to where I was standing with Lucy Koteen, Lucy being another of the protesting crowd that now remained.  I recognized the reporter from earlier in the evening though I can’t tell you which network he works for.  (I don’t watch much network news: It’s fluffy and there are so many commercials.)

The reporter was easy to recognize: He had the kind of telegenic jut-jawed good looks for which I remember the young Mayor John Lindsay.  He also had the sort of voice I figured he could depend on sounding relaxed no matter what.

The reporter remembered me from earlier in the evening too.

He cocked his head sideways and said: “You were in back of the shot I was filming earlier this evening.”

“Yes,” I acknowledged. He had been filming a shot with a young couple where he had been trying to get them to tell him about why they were excited to be holding their tickets and going in to the arena.  I stood behind them in the crowd.  I said nothing but my I'm Still Calling it Atlantic Av- Pacific St T-shirt was visible.  It seemed fair.  I’d watched another TV reporter with her cameraman whirling around in the crowd, apparently trying to set up a shot without any protestors in the background.  She kept flipping her angles this way and that.  I’d walked behind one or two of her attempted angled shots as well.  I never saw her get around to filming anything.  Most of the protestors were not paying too much attention to these media people; they were just there in the bigger swirl talking with regular citizens in the crowd.

I do believe it is a time-honored tradition, no matter what the news media is shooting, for people to want to play the game of being in the behind-the-scene crowd shot.  (Sometimes they waive, like on Thanksgiving.)  I admit, however, I was playing a bigger game.  I had a message to get across.
I don’t know if the reporter who now came up to Lucy and me previously realized that my “I'm Still Calling it Atlantic Av- Pacific St” T-shirt conveyed, by implication, the message that I am not calling the subway hub “Barclays,” the promotional renaming of the station that the MTA gave away as a virtually free present to Bruce Ratner, but now, as I stood next to Lucy who was wearing the same T-Shirt while holding aloft a protest sign, he must have recognized that the shirt conveyed a message of community dissatisfaction.*
(* Interestingly, when I went around to the VIP entrance where fans were jammed in to see sports figures speaking into microphones for the press before entering the arena I got a lot of compliments on my shirt- so I guess you can be a sports fan yet not be a fan of the subway station’s renaming.  As a general litmus test, I find when wearing the T-shirt around Brooklyn, the subway system, or the rest of the city that I get lots of thumbs up and questions about where to buy the Ms. Wit-manufactured shirt from people wanting their own.)
The reporter looked at Lucy and then cocked his head toward me.  “So you want to be interviewed on TV?” he said, fixing me in his grey-eyed gaze.

“Sure,” I said, sounding definite enough but I hope not silly or overeager.

“Well, don’t get into my shots,” he scolded.

“Just providing some context,” I said.

“I’m the news media,” he said.  “It’s my job to  provide the context.”  He was very firm about emphasizing the words: "my" and "job."

“I’m an activist,” I said, “and I think it’s my job to provide context.” I think I was less emphatic and a bit more friendly.

He and his cameraman then quickly set up, a bright light flicked on and a microphone appeared in front of Lucy’s face, “Why are you protesting the opening of the arena?” he asked, a professional uplift in his voice.

Lucy said something about how Ratner hadn’t kept his promises, how eminent domain had been abused to give a huge amount of land to him, and perhaps something about how it all had been a rigged deal at the expense of the community- I don’t remember exactly what she said.

Then the lights flicked off again.  There was something about how the reporter collected his things and coolly indicated the rest of the gear should be stored away, something about the way he then ignored me, that gave me the feeling that he thought he was teaching me a lesson: I had gotten in his shot and now he was showing me how he could dispense justice by leaving my life on the cutting room floor of reality.  He could consign me to nobody-ness.

Of course the interview with Lucy could actually have been play mere acting: She never showed up on the news that night.  I somehow doubt that he ever considered that she would.  He was done for the day anyway.
As I looked down as the newsman gathered up his things I could see at our feet one of theDaily News bricks implanted in the plaza.  The bricks are implanted there (along with "Barclays Center" bricks) to remind us that the plaza has been named “The Daily News Plaza” after the New York daily newspaper (owned by a real estate developer) that is now in a publicity partnership with Forest City Ratner, the arena and plaza’s owner.  As may be expected, the Daily News is reliably friendly to the messages Forest City Ratner wants conveyed.

Yes, the media absolutely does get to decide a great deal about what people hear and don’t hear, see and don’t see: Just how easily people can discarded on the cutting room floor of media reality is demonstrated by the way that New York Times, the city’s most important daily newspaper, disowned, and banished into oblivion, an article it had published about the community protests.  (See: Saturday, September 29, 2012, Report: How The Times Expunged Its Own First Draft Of History On “Barclays” Center Opening To Replace It With The Pro-Ratner Narrative It Favors and Monday, October 1, 2012, New York Times Ghost Article: The Searchable Remnants On The Web Of Banished (Anti-Ratner/Anti-Jay-Z?) “Barclays” Center Opening Article.)

Writing Noticing New York gives me a crack at the last word, something the newsman might not have counted on.  Nevertheless, I know that the audience I get is at no given moment anywhere near equal to a single night’s television network viewership.  Still, maybe by writing thoughtfully, keeping the truth in mind, and providing something more carefully etched and permanent I can achieve a degree of catch-up.

I don’t know what would have come of anything if the reporter had actually interviewed me before departing.  Here are the remarks I was ready to offer to all comers from the press that day:
I think the message is getting out that Ratner’s promises don’t get honored and people should have paid attention that this was his reputation.

More important to remember is that Ratner’s promises were all insanely tailored for his benefit at community expense: stealing, shutting down streets and avenues for absurd density, deep subsidies diverted from competing developers and so-called “affordable” housing that would be pretty much what the market, tax code and subsidy programs would bring anyway . . . Then there’s the notion that Ratner gets exclusive development rights over 30+ acres for 25, perhaps 40 years . . .

   . . .  That doesn’t just wipe out Ratner’s competition; it's intended to knock out the public’s negotiating power.  Until Ratner’s monopoly is taken away from him nobody has the power to enforce promises, to demand quality, keep costs in check, or to get back our public streets and sidewalks.
If the reporter had interviewed me he might have found out that I am a lawyer and an urban planner and a former high level government official, that I worked for the government in the areas of development and public finance and used to negotiate major development deals with developers with my eye on public benefit.  I might therefore know something about what I am talking about.  Would that have been of interest to him?  . . .  Maybe not.

. . . . That’s my last word for today with respect to setting the context.

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