It's a good day's work for reporters and editors at a major media brand when they can point out the failure of a public works agency or authority, much less three of them, to live up to their own rules, or to show that those rules are not meaningfully observed. 

In this case, a Dallas Morning News team concluded in a special story published Oct. 13th that the Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the Denton County Transportation Authority and North Texas Tollway authority weren't requiring URS, now part of AECOM, and other engineers and contractors to disclose litigation involving the company as part of the process of seeking new contracts. Nor were the agencies or authorities following up on the information.


As a journalist, I call that good work. In this current era of gloss, unverified assertion and infotainment, I call that a very good day's work.
What's missing, however, is important context that is not provided to the audience because of the Dallas Morning News' laser-like focus on the litigation.
Litigation by itself is not an indication of culpability, for one thing. Another is that the costs of litigation make it sensible many times to settle and that in the many thousands of contracts performed by a huge company, URS in this case, the impressive number of lawsuits cited in the story may not be a fair indication of the value URS provides in its services to public agencies.
I understand that the basic revelations in the story are important for Dallas-area taxpayers and motorists and I understand how the Dallas Morning News is looking out for the public's interest. Corporations, big ones, are formidable and their power and coziness with public works officials must be scrutinized and guarded against.
Yet there is a lesson here about media risk for our industry, and about the way journalists work, that should not be lost on URS, its new parent, AECOM, or any of us who make a living in business journalism.
And that is that a rule or regulation that is not necessarily fair or wise should not be casually disregarded or circumvented because at some point companies and agencies will be held accountable and their reputations, if not their bottom line, will sustain damage.
It bears pointing out that the last refuge for private parties, big and small, wronged by government is the civil justice system. Media outlets and news organizations also become targets of lawsuits in the normal course of business. Despite all efforts, construction disputes are especially prone to end up in the courthouse.
Yet if you read the Dallas Morning News story on URS and the list of litigation that URS has been a party to, you could get the idea that URS has been a one-company trouble machine and nothing else. You could also wrongly conclude in a fast read that the company is solely culpable for the collapse of the I-35 Bridge in Minneapolis. A bow, a sentence or two suggesting the complexity of the situations, would have gone a long way.
So while the Dallas Morning News story is valuable and important, it isn't in my opinion completely truthful with proper proportion and context.
Forget the weakly worded public statements offered by the Dallas transportation agencies and URS.
More importantly, don't give in to the misguided idea that by doing a lot of good in one sphere we are entitled to play outside the rules in another. Safer to assume that gently evading the spirit or letter of regulations and rules, including disclosure of prior terminations and litigation, will at some point via honest journalistic diligence be pointed out for others to judge.