The Styles section cover photo that goes with Alex Williams's story this morning on New York's decline is perfect in its depiction of urban desolation -- but perfectly false when it comes to being an accurate illustration of the story.
It shows a deserted Times Square, with only a few pedestrians and no cars in the typically mobbed midtown neighborhood. What better symbol could there be of William's thesis, that New York has lost its excitement and swagger, than a lights-are-on-but-the-house-is-empty image of midtown Manhattan?
Trouble is, the photo was taken at 3:30 on the morning on January 1, 2009, right after the police had finished clearing out the last of the city's New Year's Eve revelers. The streets were still blocked off to traffic by police barricades.
The photo had already been published by the Times once before, in a January 1 nytimes.com slide show called "Cleaning Up After The Party."
The Robert Stolarik picture ran that morning with this explanatory caption: "At 3:30 a.m., all was still: most of the grips and the revelers were gone, and the cleanup crew was on break."
Running the picture with Williams's story misrepresents the photo and its content. It doesn't prove anything in the story's thesis -- as any visit to Times Square at that time of night would show. New York may well be in decline; but sadly, as we all know, the nightmarish mob scene in Times Square continues day and night.
The Styles section owed its readers a photo that legitimately illustrated the story's point, not one cribbed from an old photo shoot, with its context left undisclosed to readers in the paper this morning.