Angelina Jolie


John Latta, Editor-in-Chief jlatta@randallreilly.comJohn Latta, Editor-in-Chief



It’s not unreasonable to say that “new” media, “social” media and “digital” media rule lives. For older, working generations, the stuff is both essential and addictive. In the world of our young people, digital is the norm.

A lot of people are turning more and more away from traditional news media and relying more and more on their Twitter and Facebook accounts to know what is going on in the world that is important to them. And, increasingly, what is going on is only important to them if it has a quick impact on their actions or thoughts. There’s something of an “out of digitial sight out of digital mind” way of thinking developing.

So what is happening in Washington or in other national news is commonly filtered out and “news” is what someone finds on their Twitter feed or Facebook page. And much of that is determined by their own setting of their preferences and what their friends think is important. What we might call national “issues” can become something that concerns other people. Perhaps worse, we can see issues as one-dimensional, understood via a lazy television news sound bite then forgotten because we know all we need to know.

What should be of concern in this process is that something we call “transportation infrastructure” could become an idea so distant, so “what’s that got to do with me,” that the public support needed to keep adequate funds flowing – and the weakness of that support lead to an underfunded MAP-21 – could erode even further over time.

Sometimes when people ask me what we need to be sure we have an invested and interested public and willing politicians in our field my answer is very simple: “Angelina Jolie.” Yes, I know, cynicism is not very constructive. But give us a mega-star and watch front pages, evening news broadcasts and the best and worst of the blogosphere and social media turn their eyes to us.

We found, I believe, during the SAFETEA-LU extensionfest that logic and numbers, compelling as they were to us, did not rate very highly on the public’s “it matters” list. A key question for the year ahead then is how to change that, how to engage citizens. And I’ll keep trying to find ways to do that in this column all year.

For a start I’d like to see construction companies and industry groups, even DOTs, keeping local transportation journalists aware of their work.

It is, unfortunately, a common assumption that these journalists are aware of everything happening in town. Not so. You’d be surprised how valuable a call or email about a local road or bridge project is to a newsperson desperate for a good story.

And let’s try to engage schools more. After all, was there ever a better field trip that a road construction site?