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November 10th, 2008
On the Grid

Rick Karr, Blueprint America correspondent

One of the biggest frustrations of being a journalist is that sometimes, the biggest stories don’t get covered.

One of the greatest pleasures of being a journalist in public broadcasting is that our bosses realize when a huge story’s being ignored – and then correct the oversight. That’s why it’s especially exciting to be part of Blueprint America.

Blueprint America came into being with generous support from the Rockefeller Foundation in order to take a close look at America’s crumbling infrastructure. That last word – infrastructure – is why the story’s been ignored. It’s too nerdy, wonkish, and complicated. It isn’t sexy.

But tell that to the 13 people who died when the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed two summers ago. Or to residents of three dozen homes in an upstate New York town that may be slowly sinking into the ground because an aqueduct hundreds of feet below them is leaking up to 35 million gallons of water a day. Or to tens of millions of people in eight northeastern states who lived through the Great Blackout of ‘02. For that matter, tell it to yourself when the next president says the nation will have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to fix our roads, water supplies, electrical grid, and just about every other system that keeps this country ticking … all because we’ve been putting off maintaining them for decades.

In other words, it may not be flashy, but it’s important.

Blueprint America is a true multimedia effort. We’ve already collaborated with the PBS shows NOW on PBS, Expose, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

We’re also covering the story for public radio, which has allowed me to get back to my roots in public broadcasting. American Public Media – the folks who bring you Marketplace – have joined with us to cover infrastructure on the popular Saturday and Sunday show Weekend America. My first piece for that show, entitled “The Leak,” aired October 25th, and covered a leaking aqueduct – which, by the way, supplies about half of New York City’s tap water.

My second piece, which aired this past weekend, looked at the crunch that’s hitting public transit systems nationwide: It’s the best of times for them, because high gas prices are prompting more and more people to ride, but it’s also the worst of times, because high gas prices – among other factors – are forcing them to consider jacking up fares or slash service. My Blueprint America colleague Kristina Cafarella and I went to St. Louis – where the transit authority has put the matter to voters – to see how transit cuts would affect disabled folks who absolutely depend on public transit.

We’ve also partnered with the innovative public radio web site PRX (Public Radio Exchange), which offers content up for any of the nation’s hundreds of public radio stations. We’ve done a series of four, short “news-you-can-use” stories comparing John McCain’s and Barack Obama’s positions on infrastructure matters.

All of this material – and a lot of additional information – is available at the Blueprint America web site, which also includes a blog that we’re hoping becomes the go-to resource on the issue.
In short, this is the kind of reporting that only public broadcasters can do. I hope you’ll check it out.

Blog post originally appeared on Inside Thirteen

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