First Person | Reporting On NYU

Kim Davis Portrait

My report on New York University’s expansion plans and implications for the East Village, which at this stage remain frankly unclear, drew extra attention, doubtless because this is one of those curious cases of a news source reporting on itself.

More or less, anyway. As our banner makes clear, The Local East Village is produced by NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute (in collaboration with The Times). Could NYU report on its own controversial development strategy without bias? This was the focus of commentary by Tom McGeveran at Capital, a New York news website which was covering the story before we were even launched. “How’d they do?” he asked, answering, “I don’t detect any bias in the piece.”

It’s a curious feeling to be under such close scrutiny, and maybe it’s worth repeating that I’m working for The Local as a consultant to the Journalism Institute rather than as an employee of the university (or the Times) and with an assurance of complete editorial independence on stories about the university. Skeptics might expect nothing else, but I may as well say that the university was entirely hands-off in the development of the piece.

On the one hand, it’s important to see the story as the beginning of The Local’s reporting on the plans and not any kind of conclusive summary. At the same time, covering the story highlighted for me one of the challenges facing hyperlocal news coverage. Some of the people I spoke to for the story told me they didn’t really have much to say about NYU’s plans as they affect the East Village – the main focus, after all, being the neighborhood around the existing Greenwich Village campus. Commenting on the story, Andrew Nusca of wanted to put the story in the broader context of contentious developments uptown by Columbia University, and beyond that to encroachments by “any large institution of higher education that’s located within a major city.”

That’s certainly a story and someone should write it. Our remit, however, is to cover the East Village – hyperlocally. It’s difficult when a story spills naturally across neighborhood boundaries – which are, after all, largely an invention of habit and realtors. But readers can expect further, unbiased reporting here if and when we learn more about NYU’s intentions for our particular backyard.

Kim Davis is the community editor of The Local East Village.