Issues in Transportation Planning #4: It’s All Bad News

“I never gave them hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.” – Harry S Truman

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier. After all, all through my career I was frustrated by how people reacted to bad news. Time and again I ran into a lot of flack about my “negative” attitude.

A good example was when I tried to set up a monitoring program for our transportation plan. When I did my first monitoring report to go public, the communications person criticised what I had done. He said that in my report all I did was point out problems.

He wanted me to rewrite it and focus more on the positive message of what we were doing about the problems. That got my back up. As I said to him, my message is that there is a problem and we need to do something about it. If I made it too positive, my audience might not realize they had to act. In transportation monitoring, if it’s not bad news it isn’t news at all.

Over the years I ran into this same attitude again and again. People told me that I was too negative, that I wasn’t a team player or that I was a trouble maker. Sometimes I stood my ground and other times I backed down.

Not only did this hurt my prospects for career advancement, it also undercut my message. People thought I was just an alarmist and would discount what I said. When I see all the criticism of climate scientists over global warming, I can really identify with the situation they face.

Certainly from my personal experience this is a major source of conflict. The hero of the story would need to struggle to get his message across, while he defended himself against the “shoot the messenger” response. In my story The Gladstone Barrier, I touch on this issue a little. I have another story idea, The Error, which could have this as the main conflict.

The problem with this issue as a story element is that it comes too close to my personal experience. Since it brings out a lot of personal feelings, it is harder for me to work with. On the other hand, if I draw on the emotions I felt, I can create a more compelling story.


This post is a part of a series. The other posts are:

Issues in Transportation Planning #1: What I Want to Say

Issues in Transportation Planning #2: The Limitations of Models

Issues in Transportation Planning #3: Political Interference

Issues in Transportation Planning #5: The Public and the Media

Issues in Transportation Planning #6: The Stick and The Map

I have several other posts that are closely related:

Transportation Planning Movies and Stories

Transportation Infrastructure as Status Symbol

Transportation Planning Humour

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