Each time I watch a TV news report covering a railroad accident, I find the lack of knowledge about the nature of railroad operations by so called media professionals to be most appalling and shocking. Most of the TV Reporters assigned to cover the transportation beat could not tell the difference between a flatspot on a wheel and a hotbox (overheating wheel bearing). One idea that I propose is that each railroad's public relations or public affairs director hold a seminar in conjunction with a key operating man from the operating department of a given railroad. This seminar would be intended to serve as an educational tool to acquaint media professionals with the nuts and bolts aspect of railroad operations. Ideally a press kit could include such items as a glossary of railroad terminology, a copy of an outdated employee timetable together with an outdated operating rulebook, a system map, and some other public relations materials as may still be issued by the railroad for public information. Such a press kit could be distributed to the TV news professionals of all the major networks, such as NBC, ABC, and CBS to name three examples. Some time ago, I improvised such a kit using an outdated divisional timetable from my collection and some other obsolete documents to assemble such a package and mailed it to the Today Show's Ann Curry, who is one of the network's top news professionals. I hope she is making use of the materials from time to time. By educating the news professionals on the nature of railroad operations, these people could make their coverage of news stories involving the railroad a lot more accurate than has been done in the past if they have a better operation of railroad operations. After all, to those accustomed to covering aviation matters, and the like, the railroad is a completely different beast from the airline or motor bus carrier and I think it is time the prominent news professionals realize it. The best way I could think of is an educational program aimed at both the news media and the public. This is where the public relations function of a railroad becomes vital. I realize that the railroad's main job is to move both freight and passengers from POint A to wherever they need to be, but education of the news media and the public as to how this job is done would go a long way in improving the railroad industry's standing with the public at large, especially the news professionals who cover the transportation beat. Being a writer and desktop publisher of railroad books, I am attaching a file from my new booklet about the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad as an example.
Accuracy in reporting doesn't sell ad space in prime time,these professionals are more opputunistic than accurate,by choice, if they don't know the jargon,or theunderstanding of rail operations,it gives them creative license to spin the story that they wish to spin.
Most of what I see(and not only reporting on rail issues)is inaccuracies of all sorts. Today's media especially at the news level has all achieved yellow journalism standards.
These reporters have to give spin that protects their,sponsors,and their station managers,and their legal department. And they(the media) think they have to think for us because we can't think for ourselves.
If anything should be done(and your idea to educate and inform the media) is to eliminate the 3second soundbyte,tell the whole story (both sides) and if the story is worth telling then run its entirety and not worry about running into a wheel of fortune timeslot.
When these so-called reporting agencies finally get it right reporting it and let the chips fall where they be, then we'll have reporting worth following, until then I'll as many others will opt for the best critic review in the world the power to turn the dial to OFF!
As a journalist, I get just as annoyed at mindless, uninformed criticism by people who haven't the foggiest notion what they are babbling about as railroaders do at mindless, uninformed news people. Here's a response first to James Mancuso, then to James Swidergal:
Just about everything you urge, Mr. Mancuso, is the right thing to do. In fact, it long was standard procedure at most railroads and at the AAR to do exactly what you suggest. It isn't done today because most railroads no longer have the public relations departments they once did and don't have the staff to undertake the education you urge. More important, most news organizations no longer have reporters covering beats the way I did half a century ago. When you covered a subject, you managed to learn quite a bit about it. I can count the number of knowledgeable railroad/transportation reporters today on the fingers of two hands and keeping my shoes on. I don't excuse it; I do understand why it is so. That is publishers and broadcasters cannot afford to dedicate their staffs that way. I think a similar blog for the steel industry, auto industry, or any other major industry you can think of would be able to make the same complaint: no one ever understands us and it shows up in bad reporting. True, but with newspapers going out of business because fewer people choose to read and advertisers go where the readers are, how would you deal with this problem?
James Swidergal: You don't get the courtesy I have extended to Mr. Mancuso. You've simply flayed about with invective, and you don't know what you're babbling about. There is a lot more stupidity than cupidity in journalism, and your comments about selling ad space or time and opportunism contribute nothing to the fund of knowledge. Just what do you mean by "especially at the news level"? That's what the news media deal in, the news level. Yes, they make a lot of mistakes. I wish they didn't. But questioning their integrity, as you seem to enjoy doing, is guaranteed not to lead to better reporting. It is guaranteed to lead to more animosity. Is that what you want? There is an old adage that is based on a mixed metaphor, but it communicates quite well: Never get in a pissing match with someone who buys ink by the carload. I suggest you take two aspirin and go watch a baseball game. You'll probably feel better in the morning.
To Larry Kaufman:
Blah,Blah BLah, Blah blah blah Blah!
When CN first announced that it was going to acquire the EJ&E and greatly increase the number of trains operating on it, the communities along the "J" reacted as if they were being invaded by aliens from another world. In some respects, they were!
For the past 40 years or so, the railroad industry has operated in a world of its own, isolated from mainstream society and the media. It wasn't always that way; up until the 1970's railroads had manned stations all along the line, handled both intercity and commuter passengers, package freight, express, telegrams, etc., and promoted those services to the public. In other words, the railroad industry was in the retail transportation business and communicated with the public on a daily basis. There was a level of awareness that no longer exists today.
Today, both the general public and the media are honestly ignorant of the important role the railroad industry plays in our economy. I had a businessman recently tell me that he doesn't use the railroads at all; he ships almost everything via UPS. He has no idea that UPS is the railroad's biggest domestic customer and is handling his shipments. But that's because UPS is in the retail transportation business and the railroads are in the wholesale transportation business.
Yes, I grimace too, when I read or hear a railroad-related news story with misinformation, but who is to blame? The reporter that didn't know his information was wrong, or the industry that could be doing a much better job of telling its story? I think that there's considerable room for improvement on both sides.
James Swidergal: You have a big mouth and don't control your use of it. But, you also have a thin skin and don't seem able to handle the truth, as Jack Nicholson once famously said.
If you don't like the facts, perhaps you might consider not posting gibberish that demands a response.
BillMolony is right. Railroads became wholesalers of transportation about the same time they were deregulated. The agents in every station were the first to go, then the branch lines were abandoned, further removing the railroad from the public consciousness. Withdrawal from passenger service was a huge contribution. No one talks about the BNSF Zephyr because it doesn't exist, but Amtrak's Zephyr does. The Southern retained its Crescent and stayed out of Amtrak - until the equipment had to be replaced and the capital cost was high enough that the Crescent no longer could be justified as a public relations expense.
In some way, life would be easier if the journalists that come into contact with railroads and transportation stories were as dishonest as James Swidergal alleges. That would absolve the railroads of any responsibility for figuring out how to communicate to their various publics. As I have said previously, there's a lot more stupidity than cupidity out there, and stupidity is almost impossible to deal with. The average citizen today comes in contact or hears about a railroad only when there is an accident that may involve a hazardous material release, or he is held up at a grade crossing for a couple of minutes by a passing train. I've seen reports in the news media of a grain unit train or coal unit train derailment in which the first reference is that "There was no release of hazardous materials." Railroads contribute to their own problems with an attitude problem. "We were here first," may be true, but so what? "We have the right to do this," is no better. The CN/EJE problem was compounded because railroads didn't have to worry about NIMBYism (Not In My BackYard) when all their yards and terminals were in the industrial areas of cities. Today, they are expanding - or will once this recession ends - and like it or not, they have to deal with ordinary citizens who neither know nor care anything about the railroad.
What are good online reference sources for freight/rail terminology? Any recommendations for wikis or glossaries?