Friday, October 15, 2010

Embargo Roosevelt Island Tram Cabin Test Run Photos Instructs RIOC Staffer - No Way, Information Wants To Be Free

 Image Of Roosevelt Island Tram Test From Judy Berdy

 After months and more months of the Roosevelt Island Tram being out of service, testing of the Tram Cabins finally began last week. At that time a Roosevelt Island resident was standing near the Tram Station, observed the Tram Cabins being placed in the Station, saw the Cabin being attached to the Carriage and Cable, and witnessed one of the early (if not the first) test runs of the Roosevelt Island Tram. The Roosevelt Island resident took some pictures, shown above and below, of this important Roosevelt Island milestone. I included these pictures in this post from October 7.

  Image Of Roosevelt Island Tram Test From Judy Berdy

What could possibly be wrong with doing so? Who could object? Well, someone did object to the pictures being taken and shown to the public. That person was Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) Vice President Of Planning and Intergovernmental Affairs Rosina Abramson who saw the pictures being taken and instructed the photographer that the pictures were "embargoed".

Upon learning of this, I inquired of Ms. Abramson:
I have been advised that on at least 2 recent occasions you have attempted to stop Roosevelt Island residents from taking pictures while standing on public property. In one instance this occurred near the Southtown Yard where the Tram Cabins were being stored while NY 1 was conducting an interview with Ms. Torres. The other occasion took place at the Tram Station while the first Tram Cabin was being tested on the Track. In that instance you also reportedly told the person that the photos were not to be published but should be "embargoed".

Is any of this true?

If so, is there some sort of new RIOC policy controlling who may or may not take photos from public spaces on Roosevelt Island?
Ms. Abramson responded:
No one was stopped from taking photos of the cabins from public property while the cabins were stored behind a gate.  There was a gentleman who entered into the construction site area when the gate was opened for Tram related business.  He was asked to leave only when he began badgering Ms. Torres for an interview and for a posed photo of her.  If you speak of another incident, I am unaware of it.

Regarding the request for an embargo of the photos being taken of the cabin being launched on the north tracks last Tuesday, they were photos being taken of an active construction site.  There are serious security concerns regarding the integral operations of the tram that RIOC has been asked not to publicize by uniformed services.  There was no way to know what unauthorized photos had been taken of the actual work being conducted on a non-public work site.

Moreover - the request to embargo the photos until further notice was made on a professional basis.  In my experience, professional journalists always respect requests for embargoes. I had understood that you wanted professional journalistic courtesies extended to your blog.  It's a two way street.
I replied:
Thank you for your comment on matter.

As you know, there was no request for an "embargo" on those photos made to me.

Even so, a request by you for an embargo on a photo might be complied with if the photo was supplied by RIOC, not if taken by me or any other resident/person of a breaking news story - which certainly is the case for the launch of the first test of the Tram Cabin.

Also, do you really think that photos taken from public property outside the Tram Station are what "uniformed service" are referring to as "security concerns"?
Followed by Ms. Abramson:
Then your photographer was remiss in communicating information to you as your agent and I was remiss in assuming that RIOC could rely on the professional courtesy requested from your agent. Regarding security issues - RIOC is not prepared to take the risk.

I don't think there's much more to say on the subject.
But I had one more thing to say:
The only thing I would add is that you should be aware that in this new media world any person, be it a Roosevelt Island resident, visitor or any other human being is a potential source and publisher of information - not only so-called 'journalists".

People who provide information to the Roosevelt Islander Blog, be it photos or text, are not my "agents" but are concerned and engaged persons in the community. I have no control over what they send. The only control I have is whether I choose to publish the material sent to me on the Roosevelt Islander Blog - or not.

The person who took the photographs at the Tram Station was not my 'photographer" but an engaged Roosevelt Island resident acting in that individual capacity and willing to share important, newsworthy photographs with the Roosevelt Island and New York City community, as well as anyone else interested.

There was no lack of "professional courtesy" on my or the photographer's part. I can assure the staff at RIOC, that they can rely on my "professionalism" when reporting for the Roosevelt Islander Blog....
Additional pictures of Roosevelt Island Tram Cabin Tests that Ms. Abramson wanted to have embargoed are here.

Another example of the desire of some to keep information from being made public comes not from a governmental agency such as RIOC, but from a private citizen and resident of Roosevelt Island's Rivercross Mitchell Lama Building who has certain non-specific privacy objections to fellow Rivercross resident David Bauer's reporting on issues of concern to their building for the Roosevelt Islander Blog.

Image of Rivercross from Adventures of a Goodman

In response to these privacy concerns, Mr. Bauer makes the case for openness and transparency in the distribution of public information:
 Thank you for your thoughts on a very important point.

As you recall, a significant amount of time at our 10/5 meeting was spend in considering the extent to which the Rivercross Board has attempted to draw a circle for sharing information, with some Shareholders being inside the circle and most being outside that circle. As I recall, an imposed veil of Board secrecy did not gain much support at our meeting.

There are a couple of thoughts your comment brings to mind. Having worked in the local government sector during the major part of my adult life I have had to face up to the question you raise; how big a circle of confidentiality do you want to have. Eventually, through the passage of what is called a "Sunshine Law" it was determined that the public had the right to any information involving the local government, with the exceptions being 1) narrowly defined personnel matters and 2) when developing strategy for a court case. That "Sunshine Law" right goes so far as to require elected officials to give public notice and attendance whenever two or more officials meet to discuss public business, formally or informally. Public business has a different glow than private business. Rivercross is public business, having been supported in its inception by taxpayer financing, just as our whole Island has been. 

I learned early on how futile it is to attempt to restrict access to public information, even meetings involving as few as two people. I found out through hard experience that if there is a matter, without regard to how large or small that matter seems to be, the policy of attempted secrecy just does not work and in fact the mere appearance of  attempting to keep something secret makes it more appealing for those on the outside to make every effort to find out what is going on, and sometimes imaging quite horrendous matters when in reality the matter was minor.

In the case of the Shareholder Forum, we are dealing with a group of over 35 people who are privy to what we discuss. To imagine that any topic we consider might in anyway be kept within a veil of secrecy is expecting the impossible; having laid it out for anyone to see relieves us of the obligation to offer some lame excuses for trying to keep anything secret.

I could be wrong, but I can not conceive that anything that might be discussed within the Forum framework is deleterious to any proper person, project or event.

However, if you would like to add this matter to the forum scheduled for Tuesday 10/26 I would hope you take a lead position in discussing the point.
I agree with Mr. Bauer.

UPDATE 4:25 - Here's a great picture from today of a "Swinging Roosevelt Island Tram".

The resident who took the picture wrote that this post is:

... inspiring me to take more pics of the tram!

Information wants to be free!