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After Jill Abramson’s Powerful Traffic Violence Piece, What Now for the NYT?

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a powerful piece by executive editor Jill Abramson about recovering from injuries sustained on city streets, based on her own experience and those of three other Times employees. Their stories, along with accompanying maps of New York City's most dangerous intersections, conveyed the widespread and profound impact of traffic violence more effectively than anything the Times has published before. Now the question is: Will the Times continue to beat the drum for safe streets?

New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson. Photo: Wikimedia
New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson. Photo: Wikimedia
New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson. Photo: Wikimedia

There is a precedent if you look to the United Kingdom. After a Times of London reporter was seriously injured by a truck driver while commuting to work by bike, that paper launched a sustained effort to push for safer streets for cyclists. The "Cities Fit for Cycling" campaign covered everything from truck regulations to street design and speed limits.

The Times of London collected more than 36,000 signatures, gaining the endorsement of Olympic champions and earning plaudits from both Prime Minister David Cameron and the opposition Labour Party. But most importantly, the paper focused public attention on traffic violence, an issue that can easily get lost in the daily noise of metro coverage.

An overt campaign like that may be outside the New York Times' comfort zone, but the paper doesn't shy away from going above and beyond typical public service journalism. A Times series like last year's "Invisible Child" can shape the discourse about a specific set of policy issues more powerfully than just about any other form of media.

As Abramson and her colleagues know too well, traffic violence is pervasive and affects people in ways that go much deeper than the topline statistics about deaths and injuries can ever describe. Fixing the problem is complex and multi-faceted too, requiring action from leaders in City Hall and Albany, as well as fundamental changes in how we view city streets and the act of driving on them. When the city has to beg and plead with state government to let it effectively prevent motorists from speeding, you know policy isn't improving as urgently as the situation demands. But with more sustained, in-depth coverage from the Times about how to safely design and police our streets, solutions to traffic violence could come to fruition faster.

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