The New York Times, silent for weeks while the Daily News took aim at the New York City Housing Authority for sitting on top of millions of dollars in federal funds while thousands of deteriorating, mold-infested apartments are left unattended, finally gave the issue some ink on its editorial page today.
As Bronx Matters pointed out in a previous post, a thorough City Limits investigation into the city’s reliance on private consultants — including Boston Consulting Group , the one NYCHA head John Rhea hired for a review of his agency and previously worked for himself — was first to declare that the city paid big bucks for a review of the public housing agency but hadn’t released it to the public.
It’s not too late for the Daily News to tip its hat toward City Limits.
First things first … The Daily News reported the other day on the New York City Housing Authority’s $10 million contract with the private firm Boston Consulting Group, which NYCHA is keeping under lock and key, and the fact that the agency’s chief used to work for BCG. It’s an important story and great it’s getting more ink, but the paper failed to acknowledge that City Limits broke all aspects of this story back in their November issue along with their excellent wide-ranging investigation into the tremendous spike in private consultants retained by the Bloomberg administration. It’s called: “Beyond City Time: When private firms take on public work, there’s more than money at risk.”
Failure of the dailies and other big news outlets to credit smaller ones that broke stories first is chronic. In my 17 years as Norwood News editor, it was a never-ending (and unsuccessful) battle to get big papers and broadcast outlets like Bronx News 12 to credit us for stories they picked up from us. Instead they regularly used Bronx community papers as a wire service but without credit or compensation. It was nice to see Arthur Brisbane, The New York Times’ public editor, address this in his column last Sunday. He made an excellent case for how unfair it was for The Times to run their investigation of lax prosecution of sexual abuse in Brooklyn’s Orthodox community without crediting the smaller weeklies like Jewish Week and the Jewish Daily Forward who did dogged, ongoing reporting of the issue long before the Times got to it. We need to keep up the drumbeat. Like the stonewalling public agencies that all good journalists try to hold accountable, the bigger outlets won’t change their arrogant ways until we all direct some of that sunlight on them.
OK, that said, back to the critical issue at hand: NYCHA forked over $10M of NYC taxpayer cash to BCG to examine the agency’s growing problems but they won’t let the public see it. This is not some abstract wonkish policy endeavor. NYCHA is way behind on repairs of apartments in desperate conditions where residents’ health and well-being are at stake. If there’s any information in that report indicating how that can be reversed, and even if there isn’t, the public has the right to know. We all paid for it after all.
Yesterday, The Daily News (yes, we’ll credit them despite the above lamentations, because it’s the right thing to do) reported on Bronx residents of NYCHA buildings threatening to sue the Bloomberg administration for the backlog in repairs. The Bronx Documentary Center in Melrose also had a stirring, moving photo exhibit a couple of months ago illustrating how conditions at nearby NYCHA buildings are undermining the health of residents young and old in the local projects.
Bottom line: The lockdown of public information (which is something of a theme in Bronx Matters this week) harms the public. We should all do what we can to set it free.