M. Alex Johnson – Journalist at Large

An analog journalist in a digital world

Development of a news story: Is Obama’s high-speed rail a ‘train to nowhere’?

with one comment

Over at msnbc.com, I have a piece looking at the status of President Obama’s ambitious project to bring high-speed rail — think Japan’s bullet trains — to most of the country by 2034.

The assignment was to write about the ballooning costs estimates for the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco project, which has been widely covered. So the challenge was to find A) a new angle on a story everyone already knows about and B) a way to make an infrastructure budget story — a known click repellent — interesting.

The first part was relatively easy: Let’s put the California project into a national context and see what, if anything, it says about Obama’s overall plan. The second part was a little harder.

This is a story that works (assuming you think it does) because of a single element: the infobox about halfway down that asks what else you could buy with the $98 billion the California project is now projected to cost.

To do this right, I put together a list of about two dozen big construction projects over the last century. I dug up the original final construction costs and ran them through the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index inflation calculator to get what those costs would be in today’s dollars. Then I did the division and highlighted the seven most interesting or dramatic comparisons.

You can try the same thing in your stories. The inflation calculator is one of the tools that’s included in my one-page Journalists Quick Reference Guide, which you can always find linked from the right sidebar on this blog.

Written by Alex

November 7, 2011 at 9:30 am

One Response

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  1. I have a lots of train but no bullets. It changes to magnetic train with solar rails.


    November 7, 2011 at 1:48 pm

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