APTA | Passenger Transport
December 7, 2009

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L.A. Metro’s ‘Source’ Takes Media into Its Own Hands
BY KIM UPTON, Metro Media Relations, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Los Angeles, CA

The same story is occurring across the country. Newspapers, television, and radio stations are compacting, laying off, folding. Just when taxpayers need credible media to decipher what tax dollars are buying and why, a black hole is forming where reliable information used to be.

To help the public understand complex transportation issues, Los Angeles Metro launched “The Source” in October—and, through it, is making strides toward becoming its own media source.

This online news resource, featuring contributions from experienced journalists and editing by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Steve Hymon, receives updates throughout the day, providing key developments and unique viewpoints to help the public keep tabs on what’s being done to ensure that Los Angeles County moves.

“There are fewer reporters covering Metro as newspapers and electronic media cut back,” said Marc Littman, deputy executive director for Metro public relations, who spearheaded the project. “That has created an information vacuum at a time when the public, more than ever, needs to be informed and engaged in what’s happening.”

Littman continued: “In Los Angeles County, we have dozens of significant issues emerging simultaneously. Among them are Measure R, the new half-cent sales tax for transportation approved by voters last fall; Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan; federal stimulus funds; high-speed rail; the [Nov. 14] Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension opening; congestion relief efforts on the highways; and state and federal legislative developments. At the same time, many of the new information sources filling the traditional news void haven’t proved capable of explaining the complexities of how things work and why they should matter to the taxpayer. We can’t speak for everyone but we can at least provide accurate information about transit.”

As a result, Metro introduced The Source. The service posts short news and feature stories Monday through Friday at this link. Here are some examples of what a reader will find there:
* Posts by Frederick Dennstedt—who blogs as “Fred Camino” at MetroRiderLA.com—explore the joys and challenges of navigating car-centric Los Angles without a car.
* On-the-spot reporting chronicles “blow-by-blow action” at Metro Board meetings.
* Vintage photos from the Metro Library archives show Los Angeles as it developed, starting in the 1800s.
* Footage and photos from ground breakings and other news events, along with “Go Metro” videos recommending great destinations and events easily accessible by Metro, are posted daily.

The Source also reports traffic problems that create detours, along with updates so commuters can figure out the best ways to work around them.

The writers of the posts include Hyman, Dennstedt, and members of Metro’s media relations team—many of whom have newspaper backgrounds, including the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Source runs on a modified version of WordPress, integrated by Metro web programmers into the metro.net web site.

The Source does not accept reader comments because of potential liability issues connected with erroneous information that can end up in postings. Source writers instead dedicate their time to providing content, rather than fact-checking comments. But The Source does take questions and comments from readers via e-mail and tries to share the best and the most relevant of these.

“It’s a new era in media relations and today’s technology enables any organization to become its own news information source,” said Matt Raymond, Metro chief communications officer. “The key is providing balanced information. It’s the future of media relations.”

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