ENR Commentary: Media Contempt for Construction
The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News proved recently just how far construction has to go to climb out of the low, dark place it now occupies in the minds of some journalists. This contempt for construction is palpable and spoils otherwise enterprising journalism. On Oct. 13, The Dallas Morning News published an investigation reporting that three major Dallas-area transportation agencies were not requiring URS, now part of AECOM, and other companies to disclose litigation as required under the process for seeking new contracts. The newspaper’s reporting team did plenty of good investigating about the agencies’ and the consultants’ apparent skirting of the rules. A worthwhile story, except for what it did not say.
What’s missing in The Dallas Morning News’ laser-like focus on the litigation is context. In short, lawsuits do not indicate culpability or a company’s true character; further, settling a lawsuit often makes sense. The newspaper’s list of legal proceedings includes URS’ $52-million settlement paid to victims of the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis and gives no hint of any role by any of the other companies or public agencies involved in the disaster.
The story gives one the idea that URS has been a one-company trouble machine. But the story fails an important test of journalistic integrity: to provide the facts and the missing context noted above. An extra sentence or two would have gone a long way to correct this.
In a different story published on Oct. 18, Washington Post reporter Michael Laris showed how a 2011 public-private partnership was created so that the city of Norfolk, Va., could have a critical piece of new infrastructure. The proposed tunnel is costing Virginia much more than elected officials led the public to believe.
Laris says Skanska-Macquarie, the concessionaire for the tunnel P3, required the state to agree to new terms in exchange for holding tolls lower and that the concessionaire somehow came out ahead in the deal, despite taking the “revenue risk” on the project. Fair enough, good job—until the end of the article.
That’s where Laris writes that a “separate Skanska entity” recently was “fired by Apple, which wanted changes in how its new space-age headquarters was being built in Cupertino, Calif. Virginia officials say the quality of the company’s construction work on the Midtown Tunnel has been excellent.” That reference to a “firing” is part of a backhanded compliment that spoils what could have been a more balanced piece. Laris and his editors apparently believe Apple’s and Skanska’s differences over Apple’s new headquarters–which is very different from a tunnel P3—is a negative mark on Skanska and the quality of its overall work.
That’s intellectual sloppiness and bad journalism masquerading as taxpayer advocacy. No wonder the public holds the mass media, along with Congress and big business, in such low esteem.