NPR’s Southwest Chief Story Falls Far Short.

Those of us who have been around for more than a few years, and especially if we have worked in or been covered by news organizations, are universally distressed by the state of the media today. It is, for the most part, just plain awful.
Watch any local television newscast. Any station, any city, any time. Traffic accidents. House fires. Assaults. And, when it comes to the reporting of any complex issue, the coverage—if there is any at all—is short and shallow.
Normally, PBS and NPR offer the only refuge for those of us who actually care about what’s going on around the country and in the world. But even those bastions of bare-minimum journalism seem to be experiencing some erosion.
National Public Radio stations are currently carrying a piece about Amtrak’s Southwest Chief by someone named Kirk Siegler, who gives us a perfect example of a modern “reporter” cruising along on the surface, focusing on the easy and the obvious, missing the real story, and leaving his audience stuffed with false impressions. It’s as though he was asked to review Ken Burns’ epic documentary, The Civil War, and wrote only about the interesting old photographs.
Siegler depicts this venerable train as a kind of nice warm and fuzzy way to see the country. He describes many of the passengers being aboard because of “nostalgia” and concludes the piece by saying, “…not that many people actually take (the Southwest Chief) in reality.”
Oh, really? The fact is, almost 350,000 people rode the Chief last year and the interesting thing is that almost two-thirds of those folks traveled from one mid-point on the route to another. What Siegler missed completely is the fact that for literally millions of Americans in seven states along its 2265-mile route, the Southwest Chief is their only public transportation … the only practical way to visit family or go off to college or relocate to take a better job. The Chief also transports people to big-city hospitals in Kansas City or Chicago or Albuquerque or Los Angeles for diagnoses or treatments that their local medical clinics are unable to provide.
I’ll say it again: The Southwest Chief is vital and affordable public transportation for millions of people in seven states. And this guy basically dismisses it as a kind of quaint nostalgic experience that isn’t very important because not a lot of people ride it anyway. I would expect something this oblivious and this shallow from CNN or Fox. But from NPR? That is distressing indeed.