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March 03, 2013

Don't Trust The Media



Earlier in my career I was a journalist.  I worked for INC Magazine, was a news anchor at NBC and received a Peabody Award.  All of which is to preface some discouraging remarks about the media these days.  I know quality journalism, and we’re often not getting it when it comes to local reporting on transportation.
Case in point:  The Norwalk Hour’s coverage of recent legislative hearings in Hartford on possibly reinstating tolls on I-95.  While those proposals center on use of electronic tolls, The Hour’s sister publication, “The Wilton Villager” ran a headline proclaiming “Toll Booths Have Little Support”.  Who’s talking about toll booths?
And in every story those papers have written on this issue in recent years, there is always a reminder that tolls were eliminated in 1985 following a “fiery truck crash” that killed seven people at the Stratford toll barrier.
While that accident was unfortunate, it was as rare as Haley’s Comet.  Trucks do not crash into toll booths and those barriers have been replaced with non-stop electronic tolling (like EZPass).
Newspapers are certainly entitled to their editorial opinions on tolling, but they should also get their news coverage straight as to what is being proposed instead of always beating the drums of fear over trucks crashing into non-existent tolls booths.

Even when papers do editorialize, they don’t get the facts straight.  Consider The Waterbury Republican-American’s most recent screed against rail commuters on Metro-North in an editorial entitled “Subsidized Chutzpah”.  When rail service on the Waterbury branch was suspended for four days (with no substitute bus service) after the blizzard, commuters thought they should have their weekly and monthly tickets refunded.
But the newspaper called that “chutzpah”, saying the riders of the heavily subsidized rail service should be grateful for any service, adding “One way to demonstrate their gratitude would be to decline to take advantage of the occasional opportunity to trash their benefactor.”
Wow.  If the Republican-American couldn’t deliver papers after the storm, would they consider subscriber requests for a refund to be “chutzpah”?  I’d hope not.  So why the contemptuous attitude toward hard-working local citizens who ride the train?
Ironically, the Republican American’s offices are in the beautiful old Waterbury rail station whose iconic tower is a city landmark.  It’s a shame to waste such a great building on such a snarky rag.
Mind you, not all journalists are so sloppy or hate their readers.  The Hartford Courant, Stamford Advocate and Cablevision’s News 12 usually get it right and have gone out of their way to report on the work of the CT Rail Commuter Council, for which we are grateful.  And, of course, I owe personal thanks to this newspaper for running my column for lo these many years



So, caveat emptor!  When it comes to reporting on crucial transportation issues in our state, consider the source.  And always search out a second opinion.

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