Monday, November 26, 2012

'Please Stop Reenacting Rush Limbaugh'

A couple of weeks ago, a reader, "Spataps," called me the "Rush Limbaugh of transit." It would have been better if they'd called me the Rush+ Limbaugh of transit but regardless, I invited them to guest post, and they did. It is unedited.

A Letter to the Blog and its Readers –
I was invited by the site’s author to write this because of comments I posted in his article expressing frustration at WMATAs slow response to FOAA requests. My question for the author and readers is this. Do you really want to improve the Metro? Or do you take your pleasure in attacking it and its employees, much like Limbaugh does with the federal government. If it's the former, as I hope, than I ask you to reconsider your reporting style.

I read Unsuck because I want to improve Metro. I hate when trains stop for no reason or have 30 minute headways. I wish metro employees were more courteous. And this blog is the main game in town for only covering Metros' needed improvements. Yet the attitude that the blog takes really frustrates me. I believe yelling at an alcoholic does nothing. To me, your style feels much like that. Much of the time, having taken the metro almost every day for 7 years, I've found it runs okay. Sure, there are problems, but to read this blog, one would think metro was a Florida DMV run by Chicago goons from the 1920s. It's not good, but it's not that bad. To ask for change, I think you need to acknowledge that, or risk being ignored.

While ideally metro would respond to FOAA and improvement suggestions systematically, they are human. They're going to be suspicious of the intentions of someone who reports only negative news in an unobjective style. For example, the October 26th update titled "Stalin Would Be Proud." The subject matter, Metro should reconsider its policies on releasing video from bus cameras is fair. The title and delivery are inflammatory, coming close to Godwin's law. This article almost certainly will not lead metro to release its videos, or take the blog seriously in the future.

The comparison to Greater Greater Washington is inevitable. GGW has become a widely read blog in the area, with David Alpert turning into the go to guy on smart planning for many in the media and city politics. They are critical at times but write in a style of constructive criticism and also identify bright spots. I'm not saying you need to support GGW's policies, since it's clear many of this blogs readers don't, but Unsuck should follow their growth as an example of success if it really wishes to improve WMATA.

Some suggestions to unsuck Unsuckdcmetro:

-Close the comments for a while or moderate them more strictly. Readers also read the comments and associate them with the website. Many commenters create elaborate conspiratorial, cartoonishly evil, and sometimes racist, depictions of WMATA and its staff. This is not a group that a WMATA staffer considering responding to a question from a reporter cares about pleasing. It'd be great if the comments were a place to share experiences and have real conversation. However, when I came in with some criticism, my comments got voted down and called out as trolls.

-Enact some journalistic standards. Not an insult, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you have set up some guidelines. Often posts are put up that blame the metro for something that later turns out to be not their fault. See the fire alarm that closed the new Dupont escalators. While you put up a correction, the damage was done. Instead of instantly posting, make sure you’re right first.

-Get more contributors. I don’t know if Unsuck is run by one person or if you have help, but a diversity of opinions only improves a news outlet. How to best unsuck the Metro is a topic with a lot of different views that are not represented. By diversifying your writers, you will attract more readers who also care about improving the metro but are turned off by your currently inflammatory style.

-Avoid anonymous sources. You frequently cite anonymous metro employees as to the secret real reason why something bad has happened. I have no idea who these people are or if they are even who they claim to be. Maybe they’re about to be fired for sexual harassment or maybe they’re actually right. Many newspapers limit their use of sources or have laid out clear standards for their use.

-Lay off the union bashing. I’m not saying unions are perfect, but they do perform an important role in protecting workers.

-Get into more detail. What are rail ties? Why do so many of them need to be replaced? Does it really need to take so long? I don't know but I would like to. This leads down the road of more constructive criticism instead of repeated broad attacks.

None of this excuses bad bureaucracy, bad employees and late trains/buses. It is an attempt to try and improve those situations in a more constructive manner.

Maybe this letter is a waste of time.Maybe you all really just want a place to talk about how much you hate the Metro, much like I doubt Limbaugh cares about changing government for the better. But if you truly care about improving WMATA, than please consider a different type of reporting.

Other items:
Metrobus is not so green (City Paper)
Metro's busiest stations (GGW)
VRE could lose some funding (Examiner)
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