Saturday, October 22, 2005


More questions about the Brooklyn Standard: fake bylines?

So, five days after I first reported that the Fall issue of the Brooklyn Standard, the Forest City Ratner tabloid "publication," put contributor Nate Schweber's name on two stories he didn't write, and significantly changed the two stories he did write, most other media outlets in town have ignored the story. They shouldn't. The questions go beyond the publication's dealings with Schweber, who for three years had freelanced for Manhattan Media--a publisher that otherwise publishes four community newspapers in Manhattan (and one glossy magazine, Avenue)-- and says he was led to believe that the Standard was a community newspaper in Brooklyn.

--Did Manhattan Media recruit other writers by telling them that they were writing for a community paper rather than a Ratner "publication"?
--If Schweber didn't write the front-page story attributed to him, who did?
--Who are Kim Last and Brigitte Labonte, the other two writers credited with front-page stories? Searches using both Lexis-Nexis and Google turn up no journalists with those names.

Did Manhattan Media--and perhaps even the Standard's top editors, Forest City Ratner officials--approve using fake bylines, especially after a 9/3/05 New York Times story tweaked Manhattan Media staffer Edward-Isaac Dovere for having "scored two front-page bylines"? Note that Dovere, listed as the Brooklyn Standard's Executive Editor, had four bylines in the first issue, and president/CEO Tom Allon, listed as the Standard's Managing Editor, had two bylines. While the two retain their places on the masthead in the new issue, neither has a byline. Is it because they want to distance themselves from the publication? Note that a Brooklyn Papers article describes Dovere's request for an interview with Rooftop Films--which refused to appear in the Brooklyn Standard--which suggests that he's closely involved in the publication. Four other stories in the Fall Brooklyn Standard lack bylines; they may have been put together by Ratner staff, or perhaps by Allon or Dovere.

Sure I speculate, but my speculations are reasonable, based on circumstantial evidence. I sent several questions to Allon in an email, then followed up with a phone call. He would not comment.

So, this raises another question: why is Manhattan Media willing to produce the Brooklyn Standard? Manhattan Media's four weeklies are members of the New York Press Association, which holds a "Better Newspaper Contest" and presumably aims to maintain journalistic standards. Allon is on the New York Press Association's Board of Directors, serving as Secretary-Treasurer. Manhattan Media promises, "Neighborhoods are our business, our only business." The media kit states: Our Town, West Side Spirit, The Westsider and Chelsea Clinton News are award-winning weekly community newspapers whose mission is to lead in coverage of local news in the largest and wealthiest metropolitan region in the United States, as well as serving as Manhattan ’s most important marketing resource for local businesses.

So the Brooklyn Standard seems to be an anomaly for the publisher. It is less akin to those newsprint weeklies it resembles and more akin to the glossy Avenue, which is touted thusly: "The look of the magazine is glamorous. The tone is celebratory and positive." [emphasis added] But even Avenue doesn't exist to support one very large proposed development.

The only paper to follow up, the New York Sun, ran a 10/18/05 story headlined
Ratner-Financed Publication Includes Pro-Yards Articles With Incorrect Bylines. Well, the articles with correct bylines (assuming there are some) also are "Pro-Yards Articles," because nearly everything in the issue, absent the listings, supports Forest City Ratner's agenda. The Sun reported:
The president of Manhattan Media, Tom Allon, told the Sun the misattributed bylines were the result of a production error. He refused to answer further questions.
A spokesman for Forest City Ratner, Joseph DePlasco, said “We make it very clear in the publication that it’s a publication from Forest City Ratner, an effort to share information about Atlantic Yards.” He said if readers of the Brooklyn Standard did not know it is funded by Mr. Ratner, they need “an IQ test.”

A production error? Someone was responsible. As for DePlasco, he changed the subject. Of course readers of the Standard know who funds it, but the question is what contributors were told. Schweber said: I was assigned the articles before the first issue of the Brooklyn Standard had come out and I was led to believe that it was a community newspaper like the other Manhattan Media publications I freelanced for.

Given that the first issue of the Brooklyn Standard was published in mid-June, and the second (front page here) in mid-October, it may be several months until a new issue emerges. Will no corrections regarding the articles attributed to Schweber--and perhaps other articles--appear until then? Will a web version of the Fall issue be posted, and include corrections? And shouldn't a newspaper publisher, whose business depends on openness, be more forthcoming? Will New York media outlets follow up on this, and also analyze the misleading content in the Brooklyn Standard?

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