Monday, January 21, 2019

Headline Omits Verb, Erases the Driver; New TRB Paper Addresses Problem

Not only is the driver erased, so is the headline verb
So this was casually picked up off the AP wire as filler for page 2 of the paper today, and maybe we shouldn't make too much of it, but the multiple layers of inattention are symptomatic.

First off, the headline: "2 Pedestrians [blank] by van..."

The verb, the action, the collision itself is totally erased. That's merely a typo, an error in copy editing, but it is also one helped along by the way we mystify collisions in order to insulate drivers from fault and driving itself from an awareness of its routine dangers.

The rest of the short piece is a tissue the more customary mystification, of "the van [verb]" formula that makes the van the subject of all sentences rather than the driver.

A driver struck two people walking.

A person was driving a vehicle, and a person in charge of that vehicle struck two other people who were walking. The van does not yet have agency and is not a robot. Only the human operator of the vehicle has that agency, and is responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle.

Patterns of erasing the driver
At the Transportation Research Board annual meeting earlier this month, researchers presented a paper, "Editorial Patterns in Bicyclist and Pedestrian Crash Reporting," that confirms the pattern we all see of erasing the driver.

"Editorial Patterns"
Its findings echoed an earlier piece in the Columbia Journalism Review that talked about erasing the driver.

Columbia Journalism Review
Much of this stems from police reports, which are largely transcribed by journalists quickly in the attempt to publish stories in a timely way. But we are not well served by this "churnalism," that churns press releases in an uncritical way to repurpose them for publishing.

A problematic revenue stream hinders
looking critically at autoism
If we need a new template with more rigorously neutral language on collisions for the police reporting, we also need a more critical perspective on road safety from media. This is challenging since the media depends so much on car advertising, and may not be comfortable investigating the way we mystify collisions, the way we hide the dangers of car use, and the deleterious effects of our autoism.

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Here is a Citylab piece on the "Editorial Patterns" article, "How Media Coverage of Car Crashes Downplays the Role of Drivers."

Now there is a follow-up paper, "Does news coverage of traffic crashes affect perceived blame and preferred solutions? Evidence from an experiment."

"This study conducted an experiment in which 999 subjects were randomly assigned to read one of three versions of a news article describing a traffic crash involving a pedestrian. After reading the description, subjects were asked to apportion blame, identify an appropriate punishment for the driver, and assess various approaches for improving road safety. In comparing the three groups, even relatively subtle differences in editorial patterns significantly affected readers' interpretation of both what happened and what to do about it on nearly every measure. Shifting from pedestrian-focused to driver-focused language reduced victim-blaming and increased perceived blame for the driver. A thematic frame significantly increased support for infrastructure improvements. This study provides strong evidence that efforts to change public perceptions of road safety should include a focus on improving editorial patterns in traffic crash reporting."