National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Deborah Hersman used the speaker’s podium at the National Press Club to lament the rise of sensationalism and loss of experienced reporters in the news industry. “As transportation is becoming more technical and complex, the cadre of journalists covering [it] continues to recede,” Hersman said in a keynote luncheon address on Monday. “Aside from the trade press, we can count on the fingers of our hands those reporters knowledgeable on the subject of transportation and safety.”
Budget cuts at national news organizations have gone so deep that some no longer even send reporters to the scenes of major accidents, let alone cover NTSB hearings. And Hersman did not try to hide her disdain for the “insignificant” stories that have been replacing in-depth journalism, particularly on cable news channels such as CNN.
“During the daytime they will air anything that moves: car chases, houses burning in the woods, lockdowns at schools or shopping malls, or even cats in a tree,” she complained. "And don't get me started about Balloon Boy."
Hersman acknowledged the NTSB continues to be covered by a number of “top notch” beat reporters. But she also took a jab at generalist reporters that have been assigned to cover complex issues such as airplane crashes. Among her favorite questions: “Who makes the 747 besides Boeing?” and “What kind of planes make those little white lines in the sky?”