Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 30, 2008

'Reporting' without doing such

Sorry to bore you with my addiction to cranes.

But today's crane accident in New York shows a lot of what is wrong with the media.

A construction crane collapsed Friday on New York's Upper East Side, smashing into a 23-story apartment building as it fell to the ground, killing one construction worker and seriously injuring two others.

Ok, bad stuff happens. Most people, I believe, would like to know why such bad stuff happens and if and how we can avoid to have something similar happen again.

If the media would do their job to let us know what we want and need to know they would tell us:

  • the type of the crane that broke down and its load margins,
  • what load the crane carried at the breakdown moment, from where to where,
  • real eye-witnesses accounts,
  • the company that owns the crane,
  • the company that operated that crane,
  • the name of the main contractor for the building side,
  • the opinion of the inspector who last checked this crane,
  • the voices of at least two independent experts that could evaluate the above.

Come on folks. Such basic information is easy to learn from the people on site. Run with it.

Instead we get:

  • some blah-blah quote by an uninformed mayor,
  • some weep-weep quote of someone who "left to get an egg sandwich a block away,"
  • some bang-bang quote from someone who heard a "loud sort of bangs" while he was playing "indoor tennis two blocks away when he heard the crash."

There is not even an attempt to present real information chunks within such news besides "crane crashed" "one dead" "egg sandwich are great" and "indoor tennis is super."

Sorry, but this is all crap.

How did this happen and why?

Associated Press will leave those revelations to the 'authorities' who will have this or that unreported deal with the builder, crane manufacturer, crane owner, crane operator, etc.

We are supposed to trust these 'authorities' to launch 'serious investigations' which will issue a whitewash report three years from now which no one will ever report about.

And these 'journalists' wonder why we are disgusted with their 'reporting'?

Posted by b on May 30, 2008 at 18:55 UTC | Permalink


they don't wonder, only collect and fear.

Posted by: plushtown | May 30 2008 19:07 utc | 1

Nobody pays for that kind of reporting any longer. Hence, that kind of reporting is no longer done. Even the idea that such reporting could be done, and can lead to good government, has been rinsed from the public consciousness.

The Fourth Estate is as hollowed out as the government, both serving only as placeholders of democracy while corporate money and power rule the economy from behind closed doors. This is how a Third World power operates. America operates this way. You cannot put it back together if you tried.

Posted by: UESLA | May 30 2008 19:11 utc | 2

journalism no longer exists - it has transformed completely into pornography

governance does not exist - it has been transformed completely by greed

accountability is not only an foreign word - it has become an alien one

Posted by: remembereringgiap | May 30 2008 19:25 utc | 3

It was not an Iranian crane.

Posted by: Cloned Poster | May 30 2008 19:51 utc | 4

Your list of want and need to know items are valid, however expecting these to be answered shortly after the incident is entirely unrealistic. Let's see if these are answered in the coming weeks.

Posted by: Paduba | May 30 2008 19:53 utc | 5

Keep it vague and make it seem like it could happen to anyone. The more specific, the chance of it happening to you seems more remote. Fear sells. The competition to be the first to report creates a deluge of frustratingly fuzzy 'facts.' By the time the precise story comes out, everyone has moved on, in the opinion of the editors and producers.

Posted by: biklett | May 30 2008 20:50 utc | 6

"You can't have progress and an accident-free environment", especially Wall Street,
where, you know, come on, accidents happen! I mean, credit.con, who knew!?
All the OSHA people can do is inspect randomly and write nasty conformance letters.
All the operable cranes are in Dubai making big bucks, leaving the gypo crane guys
with some rewelded, wrong voltage, missing load chart crane, hacking around the US.
You know, so the airplane's jack screw got jammed up, come on, nobody's perfect!!
O-ring, schmo ring, the launch commander took full responsibility for the decision,
we're very sorry we blew up a $500M piece of taxpayer junk, but progress "is", is!
Multimillion dollar salaries and bonuses (Wall Street) with deliberate malice and
aforethought, among 10's 1000's of corrupted finance players, what's a few cranes??

Posted by: Tou Can | May 30 2008 23:15 utc | 7

Hasn't happened here YET. But sky is dotted with tower cranes, many rushed in from US, a few from China. Not all are throughly documented, government only just now setting up Operator Training/Qualification requirements, in a construction boom era at least 6 years old already.

This is the second in NYC in the last two months. What's the rate in China or Dubai: or Philly or Chicago?

And B, also love cranes; recently completed a maintanence facility for a container terminal - front door is 100' high x 65' wide. Rubber tired gantries span over 6 stacked containers, and stacked 8 wide. Really big Tonka Toys. I'll have to download photos.

Posted by: Allen/Vancouver | May 31 2008 2:34 utc | 8

Since I haven't even glanced at any of the articles on the "big crane accident" , I should have nothing to say I s'pose. However in a combination of youthful exuberance and dire poverty I once worked as a rigger - putting up and taking down construction cranes, so I'll give MoA the benefit of my limited experience and prejudices.

One of the reasons cranes are at risk during construction 'booms' is that erection and rigging crews, who need to be highly skilled and pretty damn smart, are brought in from other localities and even 25 years ago that often meant from other countries. That in itself shouldn't be a problem but if there is a big difference in climate between the two locations then it may be a problem.

The crane sections (both tower and boom, or jib depending on the type) are held together with huge alloy bolts, just like a kids construction set but these bolts have to be tightened just right and their torque set correctly for expected temperature variation. All metal, these alloy bolts included, expands and contracts with rises and falls in the ambient temperature, and unless a bolt of the correct alloy mixture is tightened to the correct torque, disasters can occur. Bolts that are too tight will crack and eventually sheer if the metal they are binding expands more than the bolts can withstand.
If the nuts haven't been tightened enough, contraction can allow them to vibrate loose.

The only reason I got on to the site was, as well as having a mate who was the local union organiser, there was a huge construction boom in the town I found myself impecunious in. Construction crews were being brought in from everywhere and on an adjacent site the crane riggers had been flown in from a much colder climate. Since all the inspections that were meant to happen, didn't, some jobs were nearly finished before the inspectors arrived> No one had checked on the bolts on the neighbouring cranes which had been done up far too tight.

It was the middle of the 'dry' season which meant that at night the temperature cold drop to 17°C or 62.6°F, and during the day to 36°C or 96.4°F. One day the heat had caused the tower steel to expand so much that a sleeve cracked then the nut attached to the bolt inside the sleeve stripped it's thread and popped off on one section on one side.
The whole shebang came crashing down dropping a few tonnes of rio on some chippies killing two and permanently maiming the other.

All the riggers on that site were fully ticketed (licensed) and yet they got it horribly wrong. I was sure that we(all of us without papers) would get laid off as the government inspectors moved into ass covering mode, but we didn't (A tory state government more worried about getting their mates buildings finished than how many of our mates got killed doing it).

So I quit even though I was just a shit kicker on the site whose work was getting checked by careful blokes who knew what they were doing, the accident had brought home to me that having fun riding up and down with the load (which I think was still legal then if it wasn't nobody paid the law any mind) and scaring the shit out of myself was one thing, but being made aware that my stupidity wasn't just risking my neck it was risking lots of others took the sheen off of it.

There was no swabbing the workers then either, so after lunch most of us had at least a couple of beers and a few joints on board.

It was a shame, cause like B I enjoy the seemingly simple beauty of cranes; in particular that the attributes of levers and pulleys are utilised in ways that can be sublime in their ingenuity. Even the way that cranes assemble themselves amazed me. It had never occurred to me that the crane lifted itself into place until I worked on that site.

Modern newsrooms are comprised of young people, a far larger proportion of whom are women. To a much greater extent than even ten years ago. The two factors put together means that as well as life experience in general being less than a newsroom once had, the increase in the number of women reporters means among those who do have a bit of life experience, the chances of any reporter having an interest in and knowledge of the workings of cranes has been reduced.
Now of course responsibility for that must lie with media managers who should ensure that reporters reflect a diverse range of backgrounds, but they don't. How cheaply the reporter can be hired for is a much bigger determinant.

Combine the change in the way the vocation of news reporter is perceived, ie they are now called journalists, a good degree with a post graduate qualification is pretty much mandatory. Employers can demand thatsince so many want to be journalists because it is seen as a way to celebrity nowadays.

Celebrity is the the new currency and budding celebrities aren't required to get their feet dirty - literally, not metaphorically. Metaphorically speaking journos get up to much filthier practises than they used to; increased competition for fewer positions has brought out humans' worst characteristics.
Have a few beers amongst a group of middle-aged reporters and you'll hear exactly why newspapers are no longer even fit for wiping your ass with (too much plastic in the ink - it's no longer absorbent).

It is no longer uncommon for reporters to refuse an assignment because it is too dirty, demeaning or declasse. That is a general gripe against younger reporters regardless of gender.

The media outlet my relative works in has just about entirely stopped covering conflicts, the younger mob won't do it, they don't see anything romantic in it, which on the face of it I don't blame them and I suppose it is silly to put oneself in harm's way just to get a press release, which is pretty much what happens now.
The 'old hands' have also become more circumspect. There is no doubt that the murders of the al_Jazeera and Reuters reporters have made many reporters conclude that the "game has changed".

I'm sure I'm not the only MoA habitue who no longer gleefully attacks the morning fishwrap eager to glean the latest information on anything and everything. Now it takes an effort of will to read the newspaper somedays.

Just about every story leaves one cursing and moaning about the lack of detailed follow up. The reason so many reporters are so young is that their elders have left media employ to work as PR hacks for either corporations or government. The junior reporters seem mostly content to reprint the handouts given them by their ex-colleagues.

I reckon the attitude has seeped thru into many of the older heads too. I used to try and get the media to cover stories that I thought were important and had some success but it isn't that easy now.
There is a reluctance to do anyspade work the story is generally only followed up if it is handed on a platter.
Then comes the talent quest. If you get the media interested in something that interests you about the next question they ask is "who is the talent?"

The talent is the name given 'the poor fucker' they will put in front of the camera. I say "poor fucker" because on any given day there a better than even chance the news editor decides to humiliate 'the talent'.

If the "Joe Public" who is attached to the story ie: the victim, perpetrator, or civic minded citizen who has discovered the issue, if that person isn't someone that the TV network believes the viewers are going to have a strong reaction to (love or hate - doesn't much matter which) then the chances of the story being run at all, or for long enough to actually impart information, are not good.

Despite TV networks actions to the contrary, most people are not stupid and are realising that if they talk to the media, the best they could hope for is a garbled inaccuracy, the worst to be subjected to a media driven witch hunt aimed to drive them out of their jobs, homes, or family. Most smart peeps won't talk to reporters anymore. Those that do are frequently the simple-minded or prejudiced types least capable of informing the audience.
There is no simple solution the internet is great in many ways but it's diversity is a weakness as well as a strength 'cause peeps go to the sites whose take on things is closest to their own. The net reinforces community division.

Posted by: Debs is dead | May 31 2008 5:17 utc | 9

just wondering from a career-planning stand-point where crane-operator and journalist would place on the scale of honorable professions

Posted by: jony_b_cool | May 31 2008 5:29 utc | 10

Debs, glad to see you being reticent ;-)

About the crane accident, it reminds me of current highway construction here between Vancouver and Whistler, home of the two thousand and ten olympic winter games.

This highway is a nightmare; some two hundred kilometres of two-lane road mostly built on the side of a mountain with ocean below the cliff.

They are enlarging it to four lanes of divided highway, much safer when completed.

But keeping the road open, while the $600 million dollar construction project goes on does present some challenges. To widen the road there are two choices: fill in the ocean side of the road with gravel to make it wider, or blast out more of the mountain side. They are doing both, the contractor is Peter Keiwit Sons of Oklahoma.

Of course there are bonuses for early completion, it's not like they can delay the olympics if the highway is not done on time. Don't get me started about other options, this highway is going to be a thing of beauty, a legacy for the current premier and highway minister. Okay, they are pushing a green agenda but this ain't green, google Eagleridge Bluffs to find out more.

The incentive is to get the road done, to heck with ferries or trains, this is a road goddammit.

So they blast out the mountain and truck the rock to the other side where they dump it to fill in a slope to build upon.

Anyway, there are more close calls here than you could shake a litigation at. From blasting rock that rains down on residents' yards and roofs to huge rocks falling down the hillside in front of buses and through car windows to rock and mudslides that close the road ... a giant Volvo dumptruck falling down the hill ... but very little news coverage. My information is anecdotal from neighbors, fellow bus commuters and so on.

No news -- because the goal is THE OLYMPICS ... and the property value inflation and retail boom that will result, not to mention the ego boost to Canada and British Columbia and the Vancouver area.

It's clear to me that safety is not a high concern when these kind of projects are afoot. If they result in death, here in Canada that prompts an extended fact-finding mission, years-long court cases that result in nothing.

I suppose the fact is that money and progress trump safety and correcty applied standards.

Not how it used to be.

Posted by: jonku | May 31 2008 9:32 utc | 11

@ Paduba

Associated Press writers Amy Westfeldt and David B. Caruso and researcher Susan James contributed to this report.

this beauty of an article had three people working on it. what you see is the finished product. there will be no further reporting. another shiny object will soon catch our attention.

Posted by: dan of steele | May 31 2008 10:04 utc | 12

@11: Not how it used to be

interesting points, jonku, but don't fall into that trap of idealizing the past. money and progress has often, in the past, trumped safety and standards. just look at the sad history of the great railroads and all the immigrants who died in accidents or outright murdered (in lieu of payment) by greed fuckers who bare striking similarities to the greedy fuckers of today.

Posted by: Lizard | May 31 2008 16:49 utc | 13

Great post b. I saw a sidebar story in the NYT print edition that mentioned that the crane sheared apart at a point where it is bolted to the tower. Debs' point about the proper torque may come into play.

Your point about NYT deficiencies is spot on. There have recently been a lot of crane accidnets but construction accidents in general have long been common in NYC. The NYT reports on these accidents **NEVER** make it clear who owns the site or who the general contractor is. This info is always buried. No excuse for this as there are always public record identifying the informtion. Much of this is now online so you can find out who owns a proerty and who has applied for permits fairly quickly. Real estate is king in NYC and the NYT steps on no toes.

Posted by: mfs in nyc | May 31 2008 17:34 utc | 14

Jonku @ 11

I have to disagree.

I'm an architect with projects in Squamish/Whistler/Pemberton and drive that highway a lot. Prior to the improvement project it was a climbing/diving/twisting test of courage clinging to the side of a mountain and hung out over the ocean.
I loved it, but that highway claimed a lot of lives.

Widening and "gentling" it is long overdue and will definitively save lives over time. And I'm getting too old to play "jet fighter pilot" anymore.

As for construction safety, a good part of my job is site review of construction projects throughout North America, the Middle East and Carribean. See

British Columbia has the most "safety aware" construction community I know of. Yes, rocks fall when building on a mountain side, sometimes in unintended directions, but I'm not aware of a single construction fatality on that project or any of the other Olympic venues.

Posted by: Allen/Vancouver | Jun 1 2008 4:12 utc | 15

The comments to this entry are closed.