Most of the news coverage from local television sources is from a car drivers point-of-view because news executives assume that’s who’s watching their shows. And they’re right! That’s why so much of what we see on local news stations is biased toward driving cars and tends to marginalize or patronize road users on foot or on bikes. I’ve leveled major criticism at local news coverage many times over the years.
So when KGW’s “Driving Me Crazy” series (see how the name itself centers drivers?) took on the topic of drivers having a hard time seeing people at night, I was ready to get mad. But it turns out that it wasn’t really that bad. Here’s my critique…
The segment opened with the typical pablum of people in cars who just cannot fathom why other road users do what they do. “Why do grown adults think it’s a good idea to run down the middle of the street in the dark wearing black from head to toe?” was the viewer question that inspire the segment. It opened with interviews of people in their cars who said, “People in Portland just literally walk whatever they want. It’s terrifying,” “I don’t want to get like go to jail for killing somebody,” and “I almost hit one of my neighbors who was wearing all black during a rainstorm who was walking their dog.”
This was not a great start, and my blood pressure began to spike. Then our friend Dylan Rivera, a public information officer from PBOT, swooped in to save the day! His official comment to KGW was that their entire premise sounded like victim blaming. I was really glad KGW Host Chris McGinness included Rivera’s take right at the outset.
McGinness also did the right thing when he included a comment from The Street Trust Executive Director Sarah Iannarone who said we need to look out for each other. McGinness even said “streets are shared spaces” and referenced the Oregon law that requires drivers to stop for pedestrians trying to cross the street.
McGinness then talked to someone who works as a sales rep for a local running store. The rep organizes weekly group runs that start in the Pearl District and he’s taken it upon himself to make sure folks wear light-up vests and other reflective gear. That’s great. It’s good for vulnerable road users to acknowledge the inherent dangers of running on streets at night and do something to make it safer.
While I think there is a lot more to say about the topic of night driving and safety of people on the roads, I like how McGinness didn’t really take a side (other than the general framing choices of course) and he let folks say their piece. This is really important! It’s one thing if people say things on TV that I disagree with or that I think put people in danger — but it’s another thing when the host validates those voices. McGinness didn’t do that.
He ended with this: “No driver wants to hit someone. No runner or walker wants to be hit. We can all do our part — drivers paying attention and runners and walkers doing their best — to help drivers see them.” Not bad. Yes it sort of both-sides an issue where one party should hold a lot more responsibility given their ability to do harm; but given that this is a major network TV news show, this is about as good as we can expect.