Our favorite mainstream local reporters of 2009
You read about transportation from Greater Greater Washington and other blogs, but most residents of the Greater Washington area still learn about traffic and transit from the "mainstream media" of print, TV and radio.
That means the quality and balance of reporting in these media outlets matters a great deal. Good reporters find out details that they can't just get from press releases, then put them into a context that weighs various points of view.
Here are ten reporters who've stuck out as doing a particularly good job in these areas on the urban issues we follow here on Greater Greater Washington.
- Ashley Halsey, The Washington Post. Halsey moved from covering Annapolis to the traffic beat in July, and has brought a refreshing lack of "windshield perspective" to the Post's Metro operation. He's penned some of the best, most thoughtful, and most balanced analyses of transportation and growth this year, such as the one explaining how growing congestion is a symptom of the east-west divide or last week's feature on seniors encountering problems living in car-dependent places as their ability to drive safely declines.
Unlike most of his colleagues, Halsey found some cyclists to interview for his piece on the 15th Street bike lane. While he gets the job of turning most AAA press releases into column inches for the Metro section, he doesn't accept everything unquestioningly; when writing about a study on traffic from a road lobbying organization, for example, he noted the organization's point of view and cited other recent articles that might provide a counterbalance.
- Kytja Weir, Washington Examiner. Weir has the transit beat for the Examiner, and typically has some of the best reports on everyday transit issues. For example, her piece on ICC tolls was the best of the bunch. She's broken some valuable stories, like DC's parking ticket forgiveness for delivery trucks, and found out the price tag for NextBus. The Examiner has established itself as a top source for local news (they get several slots on this list), and Weir's work is a vital part.
- Lena Sun, The Washington Post. Sun's transit pieces for the Post always achieved the high level of quality and detail you'd hope to see from the largest paper of the nation's capital. She pushed hard for information and most often had the largest numbers of useful facts in her stories. It would have been great to see more context breaking out of the silos to compare Metro safety to driving, but within the transit beat, Sun shone a lot of light on the inner workings of WMATA.
Sadly, we won't be seeing Sun at WMATA Board meetings in 2010; she has passed the transit torch to Ann Scott Tyson, who moved over from reporting on the Pentagon. Hopefully Tyson will maintain the same level of quality in 2010 as we got from Sun in 2009.
- Joe Stephens, The Washington Post. Stephens is an investigative reporter for the Post, and along with Sun had a byline on the stories about Metro refusing Tri-State Oversight access to live tracks for safety inspections. Without the Post's discovery of this issue through dogged FOIA requests, Tri-State might still be sitting silently frustrated and the WMATA Board might not have known about the problem.
- Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun. Dresser is the Sun's traffic columnist, but unlike many traffic columnists such as some at the Post, he doesn't unquestioningly accept everything road lobbyists say. To the contrary, Dresser drew major attention to the inequities to the rest of Maryland inherent in widening I-270 for $4 billion or Montgomery's appeals to lower ICC tolls and saddle the rest of the state with the costs.
- Michael Neibauer, Washington Examiner. Neibauer wrote the only piece this year (that I know of, at least) which looked askance at the tendency of police reports to blame pedestrians by default for collisions. In articles about Councilmember Michael Brown's proposal for free funeral parking or the police officer blaming pedestrians for crashes, Neibauer brought in a refreshing level of balance by actually taking the time to find some quotes from different points of view.
- Bill Myers, Washington Examiner. Myers covers development in the suburbs, and does so in a lot more depth than the average reporter. He was the first to pick up the Medical Center Metro "secret plan" story, and had the most detailed coverage of the Gaithersburg West saga.
- Mike DeBonis, Washington City Paper. DeBonis is the most penetrating observer of the DC government. His most memorable contribution was his detailed Tweeting (@mikedebonis) of the closed-to-the-public discussions among DC Councilmembers about closing the budget gap in July, but he was also the go-to guy for coverage on all the major DC government stories, like the parks contracting or taxi bribes.
- Katie Pearce and Ian Thoms, The Current. The Current gets little blog love because of their unlinkable Web site that just posts gargantuan PDFs of the entire paper, but there's some good stuff in there by a number of writers that looks at the smaller but extremely important issues affecting neighborhoods in DC. Pearce thoroughly explains esoteric zoning issues and their potential impacts on neighborhoods, and Thoms dutifully attends ANC meetings where Gabe Klein speaks to find out what DDOT is planning next.
- Jonathan O'Connell and Sarah Krouse, Washington Business Journal. The Business Journal gets a lot of important news that nobody else does, especially on development topics, and usually O'Connell or Krouse writes the story.
We made fun of Krouse for her "driving tizzy" lede on a story about the Capitol Hill Town Square, but to her credit, she posted a comment in reply, even if I don't agree about having a driver bias in stories just because most subscribers drive. Along with DeBonis, Krouse is also one of the best users of social media like Twitter among the DC mainstream press corps.
Tomorrow: The worst local articles of 2009.
Disclosures: Some of these reporters, including Kytja Weir, Lena Sun, Bill Myers, Michael Neibauer, and Mike DeBonis, have linked to Greater Greater Washington pieces and/or quoted me or other contributors. Michael Dresser has said nice things about us on his blog along with links. Pearce wrote a profile of me in the Current, and the WBJ had one as well.
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