Image by Kent Buckley
If other journalists are anything like us (that is to say, somewhat progressive-minded Greater Bostonians who like to actually get where they’re going) then the eternal flame war over free-wheeling enterprises like Uber—which surfaced yet again in local news rounds last week when traditional cab drivers in Cambridge picketed outside their City Hall—may present an ethical conundrum.
On one side, reporters tend to respect worker rights (not always, but for the most part), and are appalled that the enforcers of municipal medallion systems have done so remarkably little to curb the systemic abuse of drivers for decades. On the other hand, as patrons ourselves, it is easy to be outraged over costly and in many cases nasty and neglectful taxi services. After more than a decade of trying and failing to have cabs scoop us by our South End headquarters off I-93 (before the neighborhood sprouted condominiums and yoga studios), we have a shed full of axes to grind. So we’ve been pleased to see that, for better or worse, almost every outlet we checked managed to apply some balance and restraint in covering this matter (no sarcasm). As Massachusetts legislators field at least two bills that would effectively bring services like Lyft and Uber closer to the regulations that are required of livery outfits, insurance liability and all, the tone of journalists may have an impact on the outcome.
When some of us from DigBoston were in San Francisco for a conference last year, certain journalistic counterparts from the Bay Area suggested that influential and boosterish tech media coverage helped Uber crush their adversaries in the press there, as arguably happened in New York as well. (Farther north on said Pacific run, we were stunned to learn that Uber was outlawed altogether, at least for the time being, in the hipster epicenter of Portland; it was cool though, since their trusty go-to Radio Cab came faster than a pinball fiend among the fabulous barcades of northern Oregon.) An image war still wages in San Fran, with Uber users looking down their thick black frames at the typically more artsy Lyft folk, who in turn consider Uber to be ridesharing for one-percenters; as for the initial war against old-fashioned cabs, innovation writers closed that chapter long ago.
With a plethora of neoliberal yuppies populating newsrooms in these parts, it’s surprising that more journos, from city desks to oped pages, haven’t run the taxi union out of town already. To their unanimous credit, from the Boston Globe to WGBH to the Metro, headlines simply brought attention to the issue —“Cambridge taxi drivers strike to protest Uber, Lyft”; “Cambridge Taxis Strike, Drivers Demand Uber Regulations”; “Cambridge cabbies cry foul, push for regulation for Uber, Lyft.” There were slight exceptions; you might say Wicked Local’s “Angry cabbies bash Uber, march on Cambridge City Hall” was somewhat aggressive, but overall even the Boston Herald, which has hunted cabbies in the past and isn’t known for sympathizing with immigrant labor forces, played the story down the middle, acknowledging medallion operator laments throughout their piece about Cambridge last week.
One outlier, Tom LeCompte’s rant on WBUR’s Cognoscenti, reminded readers of the underwhelming nature of last Monday’s demonstration, with the action “breaking up in time for drivers to catch the rush hour business to Logan or the hotels.” But while snark and lippy observations are welcome (you might consider this column to be among them), it’s probably best for the media to restrain themselves from piling up on yellow cabs, or, on the other side, from demonizing any particular rideshare apps of the taxi apocalypse. We can do like our progressive friends in San Fran, who loathe Uber but embrace Lyft, but in a sense, we tried a similar tactic with Wal-mart, and while it seemed successful in the short term, now we have a Target down the street from Fenway Park.
[Media Farm is wrangled by DigBoston News + Features Editor Chris Faraone]