12:23 pm Oct. 18, 20101
East Village activists and bloggers will be especially interested to read an account published this morning on The Local: East Village by the site's community editor, Kim Davis.
Titled "What's Next for NYU in the East Village," it's not the first, but it's certainly the most comprehensive report the site has published on the dispute between neighborhood activists and New York University on the school's expansion plans, laid out in a proposal generally labeled the "2031 plan."
The Local: East Village is a partnership between The New York Times' "Local" neighborhood-blog department and the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute ... at New York University. When so much community blogging in the East Village had been savagely critical of N.Y.U.'s development programs, the question arose here and elsewhere whether the enterprise could report with credibility on what is possibly the largest issue on its beat. At the time, Davis told Capital he would personally cover N.Y.U., since he was hired into the position of community editor by meeting the qualifications of having lived in the neighborhood for a specified period of time, and of having no preexisting relationship with the University.
I'll say up front: I don't detect any bias in the piece.
But I would have liked to understand better where the reporting in the piece comes from: Were the quotes from activists like Andrew Berman and N.Y.U. spokesperson Alicia Hurley (whom we profiled here) collected at one of the community board meetings referred to in the article, or in telephone interviews, emailed statements or live interviews requested by Davis and offered to him, or a combination of the above? It's a minor quibble to be sure. But the question of slant isn't always one of the reporter's intentions; it is also about access, and whether N.Y.U. has any more or less opportunity to get its message across in a piece published on a site that is sponsored in part by themselves than its opponents in this debate do; and also whether The Local: East Village has more access to N.Y.U. leadership. (The latter might, counterintuitively or complicatedly, make Davis especially well-positioned to report on the topic, of course. Access and control are and have always been a realm of tradeoff, in traditional and "new" media alike, with service to the reader being the goal of the balance between the two.) Being more explicit about the context of the reporting would give the site an opportunity to put its coverage beyond any reasonable question, in my opinion. (Of course, if you disagree, you can comment below! But this is really an ancillary location in this story; we'd encourage you to speak up over at L:EV.)
Of course, the nature of the site, and its openness to "community" contributions, including a virtual assignment desk in which readers can propose assignments to the editorial staff or volunteer to carry them out themselves, is such that the burden of "objectivity" may not be as heavy here as it is in more traditional media outlets. (It's a concept that is not exactly uncontroversial to begin with.)
After all, once there is a place to put it in a useful context, as many voices can appear on this article page as there are people reading who care enough to take the opportunity to speak. And since that latter factor is probably the preponderant measure by which the success of the site will be judged, it will be as interesting to watch as this article was to read in the first place.