As day two of New York City transit strike dawned, the New York Times was not alone in “flooding the zone.”
The city’s tabloids, too, are providing an abundance of strike coverage. The New York Post, for example, today offers 15 strike-related articles, including one about how a “cabby belted an Upper East Side woman in the face last night after she argued that she was overcharged on an eight-block ride, police said.” And you can tell that local television news is serious about its strike coverage from the specially produced “strike” graphics that hover screen-right throughout the newscasts (including WNYW-TV Fox 5’s particularly insistent and descriptive “ILLEGAL STRIKE” graphic.)
And so, thanks in part to the area’s news media, most New Yorkers are by now aware that they cannot hop the subway or bus to work — or, as the Times’s Dan Barry puts it (for TimesSelect readers only), “we were denied [the subway’s] mechanical, maternal sway that normally rouses us for the day.”
With every “flood” of coverage comes, of course, both high and low moments.
Let’s start with a positive — by way of a negative.
As the Wall Street Journal’s “Numbers Guy,” Carl Bialik, points out today, many news outlets have reported with little or no context Mayor Bloomberg’s estimate of how much the strike could cost New York City — upwards of $400 million per day. (Journalists transcribing a politician’s claim without question? Frankly, we’re shocked.) “Mr. Bloomberg’s $400 million-a-day projection was reported by Agence France Presse, the Associated Press, CNN, and the New York Times. And the higher estimates of $440 million to $660 million were also widely reported, in Newsday, the New York Times, and the New York Sun,” Bialik journo-scolds before proceeding to explain just how shaky that figure actually is (with help from assorted experts). Kudos to Bialik for reporting this out (and, of course, shame on those media outlets that did not).
And while there are still reporters today referencing without question or context Bloomberg’s $400 million estimate — at the Christian Science Monitor and the Washington Post, for example — there are also a few who are trying to do better. Writes the Times’ Richard Perez-Pena after reporting the $400 million estimate today: “Whether or not such assessments are accurate, a drive past storefronts with their security gates locked at midday or a stroll through eerily quiet shops the week before Christmas left no doubt that the strike was inflicting widespread economic pain.” Moreover, he reports, “There was some dispute among experts over the city’s estimate of economic losses,” with the former chief economist for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey calling the city’s figures “about right” and a senior economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York warning that “official estimates might be exaggerated.”
Although Newsday dutifully reports the $400 million estimate today (“Yesterday alone cost the city $400 million, according to city Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr.) reporter Randi F. Marshall is not entirely credulous: “But while those numbers seem huge, they’re not destructive to a city economy that produces more than $2 billion a day in output, according to Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com, who, at Newsday’s request, analyzed the strike’s potential impact.”
Under the headline “Some Discount Mik’es Doom & Gllom,” the Daily News today fact-checks another Bloomberg claim — that “sales at the big New York City department stores were off 30 percent or 40 percent on Friday, just from the uncertainty of people not knowing whether they could get to work.” But, the News reports, officials with Federated (owner of three of those “big New York City department stores”) “said their sales are never broken out by stores or divisions and that the company’s December sales won’t be officially tallied until next month.”
Moving on: It’s no secret that reporters doing the requisite man-on-the-spot take on a news event typically search for the most colorful and outrageous quotes to represent the “mood on the street.” In the first days of Strike 2005, New Yorkers did not disappoint. The award for finding the most hysterical (and we don’t mean funny) New Yorker-on-the-street utterance goes to the Associated Press’s David Caruso, who quotes one Maria Negron pronouncing the strike “a form of terrorism.” The Daily News, too, found a New Yorker willing to make a similar comparison — one William Welles, who “called the strike ‘citywide blackmail terrorism’,” a turn of phrase which the News deemed headline-worthy.