I was recently reading a speech given by Canadian journalist Sue Careless in which she perfectly described, though not intentionally, why truckers need their own media. In a nutshell, when the mainstream press “ignores, trivializes or seriously distorts your cause” or community, then your cause or community needs its own media. Careless says, “If your people are never quoted or if they are, it’s inaccurate,” and if they are stereotyped or if misinformation is spread about them, then they “need their own face and voice.”
OOIDA realized this 30 years ago, during the Arab oil embargo. Fed up with trying to haul freight with 20 gallons of diesel at a time, independent truckers parked their trucks. Jim Johnston and a handful of truckers went to Washington to see if they could talk to lawmakers about their problems. I’ve heard Jim tell the story. The truckers met all day with Sen. Dole, who trotted out several regulatory folks to hear the beef. Despite a failure to solve anything, after a bit, Dole said, “See? The problems have been fixed, and we’ve just been at this a couple of hours.” Outside in the hall, the media was waiting. Dole wanted Jim and the others to go on camera, announce that all was well and to tell truckers to get back to work.
“We said ‘no way’ and we went back to the hotel room,” says Jim. Later, he was watching the news on TV and there was some guy shaking hands with the secretary of transportation. “We heard them announce the government had said the strike was off and truckers were back to work.” As proof, a film clip showed trucks rolling down the Ohio Turnpike, green grass in the background. “Only thing, it was the dead of winter,” says Jim. “And there was snow on the ground in Ohio.”
It was probably about that time Jim, never having read a word about “advocacy journalism,” decided truckers desperately needed their own news.
The first issue of Land Line was printed in 1975, its mission to tell the truth and to keep lone truckers accurately informed and connected. That mission hasn’t changed. We often butt heads with the mass media because we have a different point of view. We state this right up front. The mainstream press doesn’t present the trucker point of view. They have their own point of view reflecting majority values, so it seems perfectly balanced to most. That’s why truckers are so often shocked and offended by the mass media point of view, which so frequently fails to give truckdrivers, a marginal group, insightful coverage.
Just like truckers have OOIDA, journalists have professional associations, too. We belong to groups like the Truck Writers of North America (TWNA) and SPJ — the Society of Professional Journalists — where we talk a lot about ethics. A phrase we hear every once in a while is “writing from the ivory tower.” That means distancing yourself from the people you write about to the point of thinking of them as an abstraction. Truckers. Their spouses. Motor carriers. Brokers. The DOT. Manufacturers.
No ivory tower in this camp. At Land Line, we work alongside the people we write about, and they all have real faces and loud voices. They have feelings, successes and failures that are very real. It’s for that reason that we are not just observers in OOIDA’s June Safety Month effort. We are the advocacy press in the most legitimate sense.
When you receive this issue of Land Line, Safety Month will be in full swing. We should be seeing the impact of truckers running by the book and in accordance with all laws. The mass media may not be giving you the hearty endorsement and fair coverage you deserve for the effort, but that does not in the slightest bit diminish the significance of this action.
For the very latest on OOIDA’s June Safety Month efforts, call 1-800-324-6856 any time and get Jim Johnston’s recorded update.
Vegas truck show. The 2003 International Trucking Show takes place June 26-28 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Be sure to stop by OOIDA’s booth, No. 1923-25. We want to hear your “run compliant” stories.