RIDING THE ROAD-BUILDING STORY
||When a major road-building project hits your town, it's big
news. Traffic tie-ups, construction delays and cost overruns
all become important stories. The challenge is to tell these
stories in a compelling way, without resorting to the same tired
video of cars on the road or bulldozers in action.
This tip sheet offers some suggestions, plus a guide
to Internet resources on covering highway projects.
Focus on People
- Recruit a "commuter panel" and track their experiences
throughout the project. Drive along with them, or ask them to
share home videos shot by their passengers. Install a commuter
"hot line," both phone and email, and ask for complaints,
concerns, observations or solutions.
- Who else will be affected? In addition to drivers, people who
live in areas where traffic may be diverted. Find those people
and document the impact on their lives. Ask what project managers
will do to limit the effects, which may include speeders on neighborhood
streets and dangerous intersections for kids to cross.
- Businesses may be affected by an altered traffic flow. Some
may suffer and some may benefit, as commuters taking new routes
change their shopping patterns. Look for both and put a face on
the story. Ask how major employers are dealing with the project--are
they offering flex time or organizing car pools? What are truckers
and delivery companies doing to cope? Are body shops reaping a
- Noise and air pollution may affect people living close to the
construction site, staging areas or suppliers' factories. Noise
meters, vibration meters and other tools can measure the impact
and provide a visual reference for your story.
- Tell stories from the point of view of construction workers
and others at the site. Work zone safety, archeological discoveries
during excavation, environmental mitigation, disposal of dirt--find
someone who can be a central character to narrate each story.
Follow the Money
- Look closely at the construction contract. In Dallas, the contractor
was charged extra for every hour of lane closure. You could illustrate
the effect by cutting between video of a work zone and "price-increase"
video, like a gas pump or a cash register.
- Keep track of costs. The Big Dig, in Boston, was rife with
cost overruns. One reporter explained why by comparing the project
to a home renovation. Every time the homeowner changed his mind,
the contractor charged him for a change-order. Similar changes
caused the highway project's price tab to soar.
- Watch for possible safety violations by contractors and compliance
with minority contracting rules. Use documents wisely to prove
Vary the Format
- Use different storytelling strategies. A nat-sound story about
work zone safety could let viewers share the experience of construction
crews. KSTU in Salt Lake City produced a compelling nat-sound
story about the effect of construction delays on ambulance drivers.
- Let viewers in on the progress of the project by providing
a time-lapse view. Set up a static camera and automate it to shoot
at regular intervals, or get a feed from state DOT cameras.
- Try show and tell in stories. One station used toy cars and
a Hot Wheels track to show how drivers were breaking the law to
avoid traffic backups. Explain bottlenecks without using highway
video: show an hourglass or even a bottle.
- Visit a community that has lived through a project similar to
yours. A KCNC reporter went to Salt Lake City to show his Denver
viewers what to expect when the T-Rex project hit town.
- Get aerial shots before the project starts and shoot more as
construction goes forward to show viewers what's changed. No helicopter?
Look for the highest rooftop that will give you an overall view
of the area.
- Use graphics to compare current road conditions with what lies
ahead. For example, an animated graphic could make clear how lane
shifts will affect traffic during construction.
- Look back as you look ahead. A Salt Lake station found the
man who designed the original highway that was being upgraded.
Check libraries and the state DOT, among others, for archival
film that can show how times have changed. Find older residents
who remember back when.
- Use the project as a jumping off point to examine wider transportation
issues. What about mass transit, other options? Are smaller roads
that need repair being ignored? If a rebuilt highway brings in
more cars, will there be enough parking?