Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A View from Brooklyn: Remembering Who We Are

By Paul Moses

When we held a forum at Brooklyn College to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the Brooklyn Eagle, we intended it to be something more than an exercise in nostalgia.

Our interest was in how Brooklyn is being covered today, an important factor in determining whether anyone pays attention to its issues. Rev. Raymond A. Schroth, the author of a history of the Eagle and nephew of the paper's last publisher, explained it well. "For me," he said, "a newspaper is a community's means of remembering. Without a newspaper's steady re-presentation to its readers of who they are and where they have been, an urban community is little better than an amnesiac who has been told his name but has no idea what the name connotes and symbolizes and, therefore, little sense of his true talents and possibilities."

For some time now - going back to the early 1990s, when I wrote a weekly Brooklyn column in New York Newsday - I've complained about the thin coverage Brooklyn gets from a Manhattan-centric news media. The Eagle warned in its final editorial that Brooklyn was "doomed to be cast in Manhattan's shadow" as a result of the loss of its daily newspaper. That may be a bit dramatic, but I'll say this: Nowhere in the country do so many people get so little local coverage.

But now there's some good news to report: Brooklyn has its own around-the-clock television news channel, Cablevision's News 12. The programming, which started June 14, resounds with the voices of Brooklyn.

Its young reporters get out through the entire borough - they don't just cover downtown and Brownstone Brooklyn - and into the neighborhoods. They are based in offices at East 18th Street and Avenue Z; 800 E. 92nd St., 900 60th St. - again, not just downtown. I'd like to say that this is a good journalistic strategy; it's been my experience that the location of the office helps to shape the focus of a news organization's coverage. But, like much else in Brooklyn these days, it was more a matter of finding the real estate; the news bureaus are located in previously existing Cablevision offices.

The coverage lives up to the station's motto, "as local as local news gets." That refrain, repeated through the day, may be parochial. I've noticed that the best of the station's anchors manage to deliver that line with a twinkle in the eyes. But major news organizations are starting to discover it is good business to pursue local markets, and few overlooked markets are as large as Brooklyn's.

A typical story I've seen was about the East New York community garden about to be bulldozed. It's what the station is particularly good at - getting voices from communities heard. And you can keep up with news about crime, fires, government announcements, traffic.

I may be asking for too much here, but no one will mistake News 12 for "60 Minutes"; it's certainly not investigative. So at this point, News 12 doesn't fulfill Brooklyn's need for edgy, in-depth journalism.

But the station does succeed in the vital role of telling Brooklynites who they are so that we don't become, collectively, like the amnesiac Father Schroth referred to in his talk.

If there is one problem so far with News 12, it's that its availability is limited to the 280,000 households that subscribe to Cablevision, which has a city franchise covering only portions of Brooklyn. This is a problem with the borough's weekly newspapers, too. While they can do some fine coverage, it's contained to specific sections of the borough. Brooklyn needs its own public square in the form of Brooklyn news sources accessible to all Brooklynites.

Hopefully, News 12 soon will be available to Time-Warner cable customers in Brooklyn. Deborah Koller-Feeney, spokeswoman for News 12, said this was under negotiation. I've found that News 12 complements Time-Warner's New York 1, which, in my view, does the best television news coverage of New York City.

At a time when much of Brooklyn is being re-shaped, the borough needs all the coverage it can get. There should be a lively discussion of Brooklyn's future.

If you'd like to enter this discussion of how Brooklyn should be covered, you can start by checking a transcript elsewhere on this Web site of the March 15, 2005 forum the Center for the Study of Brooklyn sponsored with the Brooklyn Studies Program @ Brooklyn College and the Wolfe Institute for the Humanities. Respected reporters who cover Brooklyn - columnist Jimmy Breslin; Times reporter Diane Cardwell; Post reporter Patrick Gallahue; former Newsday reporter Ron Howell; Daily News Brooklyn Bureau Chief Joanne Wasserman -- offer some interesting insights. You can also check an article I wrote in City Limits magazine on the Eagle.

But what do you think?
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