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De Blasio Press Office Uses Genius to Strike Back at News Articles

By  Jeff Mays and Danielle Tcholakian | June 8, 2015 3:46pm 

 The mayor's press team used a website to make five public critiques of a 184-word New York Post article.
The mayor's press team used a website to make five public critiques of a 184-word New York Post article.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

NEW YORK CITY—Mayor Bill de Blasio told listeners of the Brian Lehrer Show on Friday not to "believe everything they read in the New York Post" after he was asked about a recent report that he planned to run for president.

Now, the mayor's staff is out to prove it by using Genius — an online site that allows users to annotate everything from rap lyrics to news articles — to point out discrepancies in media coverage of the mayor.

Ishanee Parikh, a deputy press secretary for De Blasio, touted her use of Genius on Twitter, saying the administration "sets the record straight" about a June 3 New York Post article titled "Residents claim ex-cons and sex offenders taking over Kips Bay" about problems at the Bellevue Men's Shelter.

In a 184 word article, Parikh placed five annotations.

In one paragraph, where the article reports that the shelter has 1,000 beds, Parikh annotated the article: "FACT CHECK: This shelter has 850 beds," she wrote.

Another line in the story says that the shelter had "60 sexual predators" before many were shipped to Brooklyn after a resident was accused of raping a woman at a local bar.

"FACT CHECK: This site used to have 17 sex offenders, and all of them have been moved," Parikh wrote.

"This is a 21st century press office, and we're excited to try out this new tool to share additional information and facts with New Yorkers," Parikh said.

The article was the first time de Blasio's press office has used Genius to respond to an article — but they say it won't be the last.

De Blasio has had a sometimes contentious relationship with City Hall press since taking office 18 months ago.

Last year, de Blasio called a press conference to refute "flat out lies" in a New York Post article which said that his wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, did not want Police Commissioner Bill Bratton in the job. On the Brian Lehrer Show Friday, de Blasio criticized as "misleading" a Daily News story which said that subway crime was skyrocketing.

The mayor recently lectured the City Hall press corps and criticized journalists for editorializing and sensationalizing when they asked about statements from protesters that they had been treated more roughly by the NYPD than in the past.

The mayor has been criticized by the media for his chronic tardiness, leaving reporters waiting an hour or more for scheduled events or press conferences to begin without explanation. The mayor was also criticized by the New York Press Club for hosting press conferences where he controls the topic of reporters' questions.

And last week, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York Press Club criticized the de Blasio administration for banishing protesters at his events to a so-called "free speech zone."

Parikh added that the annotation technique wouldn't apply to just the New York Post, but "all media."

Kelly McBride, vice president of academic programs at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, said the annotation by de Blasio's staff is a "perfectly legitimate way" to criticize the media. However, it could also be used as a tool by de Blasio to control the narrative about his administration.

The administration has used BuzzFeed listicles, SoundCloud and Vine, among other social media tools, to reach out directly to the public. Parikh also tweeted out the administration's response to a Change.org petition to clean up the Kips Bay shelter where it said the Post was engaged in "misreporting."

A spokesperson for the New York Post was not immediately available for comment.

"It could be that de Blasio doesn't want to let others have control of a real dialogue and that he would very much prefer to criticize and not participate in a dialogue," McBride said. "That does not serve news consumers at all."

Tom Lehman, Genius co-founder and CEO, said he was happy to see the site being used by de Blasio's press office.

"[T]here are a lot of uses for annotation, but the ability to set the record straight directly on a story is a pretty powerful one," Lehman said.

Users can add a Genius URL to an article to make it annotatable. Annotations can include anything from tweets to letters to the editor. The annotations are attributed directly to the person who wrote them so readers know the source.

The site, which launched with a focus on rap lyrics in 2009 but expanded to focus on all sorts of media last year, is in a beta testing phase where anyone can sign up. Public figures and institutions, such as de Blasio's office, are verified by Genius.

Ilan Zechory, co-founder and president of Genius, said that the Post was free to respond to the critiques issued by the mayor's office.

"If the New York Post were to engage and offer a different take, its annotations would live on the page alongside those made by de Blasio's office and readers would be able to follow the discussion," said Zechory.

McBride said journalism organizations might be wise to move the debate to a place that benefits its readers by making annotation available on their websites.

"Think of a world where a piece of information is published and then the stakeholder says: 'That is wrong.' What's needed is an independent arbiter," McBride said. "That's what journalists are supposed to do."