Peter McCarthy
Photo credit: Pixabay / Creative Commons CCO License
Photo credit: Pixabay / Creative Commons CCO License

It should have been a good week for the Main Street WIRE, with Dick Lutz forced out of retirement to restore quality journalism at the newspaper, but a morass of questionable judgment, poor reporting and possible plagiarism wrecked the moment.

Plagiarism?

The article, tucked in at the top of page 13, struck me as odd, right away. There was, for one thing, not much  Roosevelt Island focus, but there was something else...

It quickly dawned on me that I'd read this story before. Elsewhere.

As a test, I did what the WIRE's editor should have done, that is, a match search in Google.

One perfect match popped up from an article in a Queens journal, The Forum:

“Citywide Ferry Service will provide increased transportation options for commuters in Western Queens—and the cost of a boat ride to Midtown or Wall Street will be the same as a trip on the subway,” said City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside). “All five boroughs will be better connected because of this new initiative. Long Island City is growing rapidly, and its residents need a variety of transportation options. I’m thrilled to announce this location and expand Citywide Ferry Service in our neighborhoods.”

And there was a near match:

"The LIC North ferry landing at Gantry Park is projected to have the highest ridership outside of Manhattan, estimated to service approximately 4,000 daily trips." was slightly adjusted in the Main Street WIRE to: "The LIC North ferry landing at Gantry Park is projected to have the highest ridership outside of Manhattan at 4,000 daily trips."

It's acceptable for writers to quote outside sources, of course, but a reference to the source is required. The WIRE did not do so, leading readers to believe the reporting was original.

An accompanying photograph, which occupies more space than the written section, was similarly lifted from elsewhere, without attribution, as if the newspaper supplied the picture by its own efforts. The picture, according to three other publications who used and cited it, is property of the New York City Economic Development Corp.

This may not immediately seem like much, but taken together, the content duplicated without credit from other sources made up roughly 80% of the article.

Adding to the lack of veracity was misinformation included in the paragraphs that the WIRE did appear to create.

First, it said the details were gathered from a "press conference." There was no press conference, simply an announcement from EDC coordinated with local politicians for media exposure.

The article correctly locates the new ferry landing at Gantry Plaza State Park, but goes on to identify it as "...directly across the east channel of the East River from FDR Four Freedoms Park..." It's actually a quarter of a mile downriver, not a huge discrepancy but enough to verify the apparent noninvolvement of the writer with the news itself.

Among other issues, the Daily asked WIRE Editor Briana Warsing and Publishers Dick Lutz and Jack Resnick to explain how vetting of articles for authenticity was done at the newspaper. All declined to answer.

Westview Privatization: Important Subject, Sloppy Reporting

At what has become primarily an advertising platform with filler material, the WIRE was late to the gate, publishing a rambling, inaccurate piece that got crucial dates wrong. Voting on Westview privatization is planned for September 30th and October 1st, not this past weekend.

While the information is scattered and not arranged in a format that lends itself to understanding for readers, it is also hopelessly hobbled by using unnamed sources. One source was given anonymity by the WIRE because of "a lack of trust pervasive during this time of transition."

Lack of trust is not generally considered sufficient reason to shield a source. Instead, it comes off as a kind of editorial comment, shedding a distrustful light on the Westview Taskforce without any evidence to back it up.

It is generally unfair to allow unnamed sources to make derogatory comments unless identifying the source would involve unacceptable risk. Otherwise, all you have is gossip against which the target has no defense. For the purpose of this story, it does not appear that the WIRE sought comment to counterbalance any of the unattributed accusations.

Several anonymous comments were reported without even that much explanation or challenge. How are readers to evaluate the reliability of what is being said, if they aren't told who is doing the talking and there is no effort toward balance?

A community that is force fed a newspaper, whether they want it or not, deserves better in return for the privilege.

Putting Gristedes Own John Catsimatidis On Stage

Without any complaint about giving John Catsimatidis a full opportunity to defend himself from community concerns caused by his termination of the WIC program, we find this front page article strange in several ways.

Immediately off-putting and of concern to any responsible journalist is the headshot of Catsimatidis that accompanies the story. It's great picture of him and flattering. I'd like it too, and I bet Catsimatidis did when he first saw it - in Forbes. 

As with the story above, the WIRE again inappropriately used photography from another source without attribution.

Readers are led to believe that the WIRE took this picture at a meeting with Catsimatidis and his staff, which brings up a more important question: Did Editor Briana Warsing actually attend the meeting she reports on or is there some other, uncredited source?

Warsing told the Daily that she met with Gristedes's owner last Tuesday at his corporate headquarters, although this detail is not contained in the report.

The obvious question is, if Warsing met with Catsimatidis, why was it necessary to lift an uncredited photo from Forbes? Why not just snap a news photo at the meeting? A PR style photo hardly compliments a news story.

A careful reading shows the writing to be better, livelier, more focused and organized, than her other work. (Compare with the Westview piece, also on the front page.) The improvement may best be explained by Dick Lutz's return out of retirement to active participation with the newspaper .

The article is, for the most part, a puff piece that offers Catsimatidis an opportunity to rationalize cancelling of the WIC program in his own terms, assigning blame and dodging guilt, without challenge. It contains no new information and simply repeats what the Roosevelt Islander blog and the New York Post reported weeks ago.

To the dismay of local residents, Warsing does not challenge Catsimatidis about why he continues to lump an isolated lower income community on Roosevelt Island with Manhattan in product pricing. She does not ask why the demands of serving less than five needy families per week with WIC checks is too much for his staff to handle.

Warsing's article could supply a vigorous summer league with enough softballs for a season, this just one issue after claiming that Gristedes might be in such serious violation that RIOC ought to consider canceling its lease.

Adding to the weirdness is the fact that, whatever the reasons behind this article, Catsimatidis found it necessary to write a long letter to the editor, making the same case, which you can find in full on page 2, scoring a double win for Gristedes and its owner.

One suggestion floated is that the WIRE published this article to flatter Gristedes's owner into returning advertising to the WIRE. The supermarket currently enjoys a relationship with the WIRE's dreaded rival, the Roosevelt Islander blog. Stay tuned on that one.

Finally...

Checking the masthead in the latest Main Street WIRE we learn that longtime editor and publisher Dick Lutz has been flushed out of retirement to join John Dougherty as a Production Manager and is now, also, "Acting Publisher," a position he has said he loathes after twenty years on the job.

The return of Lutz is a positive for the WIRE, which had struggled to reach the level of a middling high school newspaper in recent months. Content concerns aside, the overall writing is better and the composition cleaner.

But the value of a tardy by nature print newspaper, competing against other more timely sources, remains in question. If Roosevelt Islanders are expected to accept the WIRE in their mailboxes on a regular basis, content improvement and real objectivity needs to be added to balance the heavy dose of advertising.