Residency Hesitancy

The idea was a moment of social media savvy, despite being done before: Tesco, SmartCar and so many other brands have all used Twitter to seem not only responsive but human. Reply to the consumers. Convince them that Oreo/Tide/Axe Body Spray has the corporeal capacity to care. Amtrak was just hopping on the bandwagon.

It started when Jessica Gross, a writer from New York, tweeted to get support for a train-based writer residency program, an idea that author Alexander Chee had jokingly suggested in an interview. “How much momentum do we have to gain to get this to become real?” she cyber-asked @Amtrak.

Amtrak’s figurative mouth, I imagine, watered at the potential PR move. A mass of enthusiastic writers had swarmed around the idea and were already littering Twitter with #AmtrakResidency. So the company invited Jessica for a test run. Weeks later, she went on a free 44-hour trip from Chicago to New York and back. All she had to do was write a blog post for Amtrak and optionally tweet her thoughts.

Now the real deal is launching. Applications ended on March 31 and will allow writers to stay on board for three to five days at a time.
Back on the Internet, the writing community divided itself. On one hand, nearly 7,000 eager hopefuls applied, and The Wire spouted praise. Others disagreed. First, for about $900 per trip, the residency is paying a slim $21,600 for “ad copy” from the selected writers, said Dan Zak at The Washington Post. He found this troubling, given that tickets are usually too costly for most liberal arts professionals. Others pointed to the fine print in the contract, which gives the Amtrak the rights to publish or distribute applicants’ writing samples. Even more pointed out the creepiness of corporate-sponsored literature and that thousands of writers were essentially launching a company’s viral marketing campaign. For free.

So is Amtrak off the rails? Or are the naysayers just blowing steam? I guess the real question is: Did I just write this for the puns? And the answer is yes. Yes I did. That was, how do you say, my loco motive.

By Samantha Schuyler

The American Climate Change

Climate change. Whenever these two words appear in close proximity to each other, things can get a little touchy. Media sensationalism, an apathetic public, confounding science? Opinions are all over the place. Sure, California won’t be collapsing into the Pacific Ocean in the next few years, but increases in the Earth’s average temperature and rising sea levels are legitimate concerns for most. Or are they?

The most recent Gallup poll on public perceptions of climate change showed a whopping 42 percent of Americans believe the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated. While a collective majority of Americans acknowledge that reports surrounding global warming are generally correct (23 percent) or generally underestimated (33 percent), more than three-quarters of the country believe these reports to be nothing more than a sheer overstatement.

What should be noted, however, is the difference in the national perception of climate change following the year 2008. With the general population steadily becoming more doubtful over the past six years, two phenomena expose the stark trend plaguing national awareness: politics (shocker) and the media.

The correlation between an increase in the media’s coverage of climate change and the general incredulity afflicting so many Americans exposes the power inherent in political agendas.

For those of you not so keen on politics, the 2008 presidential election was notable as a result of the Republican platform, which for the first time in the party’s history extensively covered issues of renewable energy, environmental protection and climate change as a whole. While in 2012, the party nearly omitted all calls-to-action regarding climate change.

Such partisan ideologies undoubtedly shape public opinion. A new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, recently found that 72 percent of Fox News climate segments are misleading. For some perspective, 30 percent of CNN’s climate-related segments were found to be misleading (though errors tended to be made by climate-change-denying guests present for a debate), as well as 8 percent for MSNBC.

While fact is fact, science can be heavily muddled by political agenda or news networks, and this may have more of an impact on public perception than previously thought. To get the full scoop on Americans’ climate change denial, check out Gallup poll online here.

By Damian Gonzalez