WJ Editorial

Reaching New Allies In Infrastructure Debate

On July 2, Vice Media and HBO ran a documentary on American infrastructure issues titled “The Big Fix.” It’s not yet generally available on Vice’s website, but when it does become available, we recommend that our readers watch it.

Starting with a Toronto-based print magazine, Vice Media has developed into a multimedia company. It has proven adept at appealing to millennials who get most of their information and news from online streaming videos, podcasts and other digital sources rather than print.

Fully half of the Vice report focuses on America’s aging lock and dam system and its many challenges. The Vice correspondent scampers across locks, interviews Corps officials and on-site workers and delivers rapid-fire statistics, bolstered by effective graphics. The coverage is concise, professional and neutral, heavy with facts and free of any distorting agenda. The important point about the sustainability, economy and environmental desirability of water transport comes through loud and clear.

The segment was prepared with the cooperation of Waterways Council Inc., and it shows in its professionalism. Footage of locks, dams and towboats alternates with graphics illustrating cargo routes.

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The segment opens and closes with videos of President Trump proposing his infrastructure fixes at press conferences. A relatively long center piece on the problems of Lock and Dam 52 is detailed and fair. The segment closes with some criticism of Trump’s infrastructure plans from a Louisiana port official, who believes Trump should have made rebuilding infrastructure—and not with public-private partnerships—the centerpiece of his domestic agenda. The piece allows him to talk at length but indulges in no gratuitous Trump-bashing itself.

It all may be familiar to those of us who have been following (and writing about and advocating for) these issues for years. The intended audience, however, includes those for whom all these issues may be brand new.

Many thanks are due to WCI for its work on this. As media habits change, more and more of the debates important to the future of the waterways system are moving online. The more people know about lock and dam issues, the better it is for our industry and the infrastructure it depends on.