Page 1 of 2
If you’re an operator running a safe, responsible, and ethical family bus business, you may wonder why you don’t recognize the motorcoach industry often depicted in the media.
You’re not imagining things. The mainstream media often distort the industry’s image, and you suffer collateral damage as a result. Let’s look at why this dynamic exists — and how you can fight it.
Motorcoach operators are one of America’s few remaining multi-generational, family-run, mom-and-pop small business sectors. Sure, everyone knows the iconic names of the big dogs and mega-companies that dominate the scheduled service sector of the landscape. But small charter and tour bus companies make up most of the motorcoach businesses throughout North America. Indeed, about three-quarters of all bus companies have fleets of fewer than 10 motorcoaches.
So why are the media so quick to turn them into villains?
Attitudes, thinking patterns and preconceived notions among journalists are shaped as far back as college. Part of that mindset is to view businesses in general, of all sizes, as putting profits over people. When journalists imbued with such biases are assigned to cover a story on an industry they know nothing about, other than a bus just crashed, it is predictable how the story is likely to play out.
Sweeping generalizations about the media are no more accurate than such views of any other profession — say, a small mom-and-pop bus company, for instance. As with any occupation, there are good reporters and bad reporters. But having been a journalist in the mainstream media earlier in my career, I can attest to the newsroom groupthink that often drives decisions about how key players in a news story are reflexively perceived and portrayed. Such reporters embrace those notions before even starting to gather information or conduct interviews.
We’ve all heard the macabre media truism, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Yes, bad news makes good headlines. But it’s more complex than that.
NO CHARTER SCHOOL HERE
During the past two decades, journalism schools have shifted the way they teach the craft of reporting. In the good old days, aspiring scribes were taught to write as if they were recorders of events — just the facts on who, what, where, when, why and how. Today, journalism students are taught they have a more critical role than chronicler of the first draft of history. They are taught what academics euphemistically call “civic journalism.”
In this idealized world, journalists don’t just convey the facts, but act in their readers’ civic interests. Their inherent presumption is that they all know what their readers want (activist government, more regulations, broader oversight, etc.), although they never seem to have bothered to poll their readers, nor been elected by anyone to promote such an agenda.
Civic journalism is actually “agenda journalism.” Its practitioners prefer the vague and fuzzy “civic journalism” to hide the agenda being pushed. And that agenda is clearly antithetical to “corporate interests” and “big business.” Your company, no matter how small, is considered part of that category.
Never mind, Mom, that you and Pop and Sonny and Sis are running the small family charter and tour company Grandpa started back in the day. Forget that you have a stellar safety record, impeccable customer service, and good green practices. Civic journalism requires that, for the purposes of the story, operators, no matter how small, be “corporate fat cats” in the bus industry — even “bus barons” — that are all guilty by association when a motorcoach marauder lacking FMCSA operating authority crashes.