Runway Safety – A Tale of Two Papers

It’s interesting to examine the different ways New Jersey newspapers chose to report the results of a new federal study that concluded that air travelers face a high risk of a catastrophic collision on U.S. airport runways.

The best reporting came from the Bergen Record’s Tom Davis and Herb Jackson, whose lead provided New Jerseyans with the part of the study most relevant to them:

Newark Liberty International Airport ranks among the worst in the nation for runway close calls.

By contrast, the Star-Ledger’s J. Scott Orr took a broader approach and began his story with several paragraphs summarizing the report.

Newark, the home of the Star-Ledger, didn’t get mentioned until the mid-point of the story:

Though the report did not specifically identify any near-accidents at Newark Liberty International Airport, it did rank Newark — the nation’s 13th busiest airport — ninth in the number of incursions from 2001 through 2006 with 25.

In November 2006, a loaded passenger jet taxiing to a runway at Newark Airport clipped wings with another jet. A few days earlier a Continental Boeing 757 landed on a taxiway instead of a runway. No one was hurt in either incident and both are being investigated by federal authorities.

In addition, the Ledger – unlike the Record — relied heavily on a press release for the quotes it used from U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), one of the lawmakers who requested the study.

Meanwhile, the Asbury Park Press and most other New Jersey newspapers used a wire story that contained no details specific to New Jersey. Newark Liberty International Airport may not be in these papers’ circulation areas, but odds are their readers use it when they fly.

One notable exception was the Atlantic City Press. Thomas Barlas’ story included information on runway safety at Atlantic City International Airport, along with comments about the local facility from airport officials as well the FAA.

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