The union connection to East Palestine

Issue 62: What a dearth in coverage on the Norfolk Southern train derailment says about the national press.

It’s Friday, February 24th.

Get The Objective in your inbox every week.

The Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, highlighted the glaring lack of union coverage from major corporate media outlets. 

The train crash itself appeared to be undercovered by cable news outlets that capture the lion’s share of ratings, according to data from Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive. This was notable when compared to the weeklong coverage of the alleged Chinese spy balloon. 

CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC’s coverage of the balloon outpaced that of East Palestine by 200 times between Feb. 3-5. The balloon was shot down on Feb. 3, potentially justifying some of that coverage. But the volume of stories on the train derailment from those three outlets is still at a third of the balloon coverage’s peak from Feb. 3 till today.

Cable outlets seem motivated by partisan or sensational angles. A quick view of Fox’s digital coverage of the topic shows a clear — and consistent — politicization of what is a wide-ranging environmental crisis. Fox is a large-scale conservative propaganda outlet, but they consistently rank #1 in cable ratings. 

Print outlets were faster to react, and a cursory look through the search bars of The New York Times and Washington Post shows several articles and timelines of the disaster. But while stories on East Palestine were plentiful if you were looking for them — an analysis by Jason Linkin at the New Republic found that local news coverage was extensive — the front, and often subsequent, pages of many national mainstream outlets opted for other stories.

A deeper examination of why many national outlets failed to highlight the East Palestine crisis has roots in last year’s proposed rail strike and corporate cable media’s fascination with sensationalizing stories.

Last year, rail workers highlighted long hours and a lack of consistent safety inspections in their demands to rail companies, including Norfolk Southern. But in the days following the decision of local authorities to dispose of the chemicals in a controlled burn, few outlets covered what impact labor stress may have had on the incident, instead choosing to prioritize statements by Norfolk Southern and the EPA.

While these perspectives are certainly relevant in this crisis, there has been an evident lack of coverage from mainstream cable outlets on the issues union workers have been raising the alarm about for months. 

The Guardian, Business Insider, The Nation, and Jacobin Magazine were some of the few outlets to critically cover the importance of labor demands in addressing this crisis and preventing future ones. 

The lackluster media coverage of the Feb. 3 incident could be related to corporate media’s apparent disregard for the concerns of union workers — especially around working conditions and long hours. 

While federal regulations have not kept up with rail safety technology, rail companies continue to bring in large profits while workers are ignored, even when they raise their voices. 

This article is based on my perception of this story, which I’ve been actively tracking over the past few weeks. I personally saw a clear desire from mainstream outlets to only cover the Norfolk Southern incident when politically convenient or sensational enough for ratings. If you feel like I missed anything, don’t hesitate to let me know at @NawarNemeh on Twitter!

— Nawar Nemeh


A Bit More Media

Q&A: Nawar Nemeh. In our latest conversation with a member of The Objective’s leadership team, social media manager Nawar Nemeh spoke to Holly Rosewood about the contradictory nature of social media policies, the ways growing up in Syria informed his definition of objectivity, and the reach of his work at Radio Free Asia.

New York Times to continue harming trans people. Last week, more than 180 New York Times contributors published an open letter calling on the paper to correct its editorial bias against “transgender, non-binary and gender-nonconforming people.” In response, the paper ignored the coalition’s letter and doubled down on its coverage by releasing a statement and publishing an opinion piece in defense of J.K. Rowling.

DEI and Accountability at the Knight Foundation. After three years of research, the Community Info Coop’s Just Transition program has released its report on the Knight Foundation. With in-depth analyses of the organization’s ties to the far-right, as well as allegations of tax fraud and toxic workplace practices, the report aims to be a “benchmark and turning point.”

Capital B announces a second local market. The organization, launched a little over a year ago, is looking for an editor to lead its newest newsroom in Gary, Indiana. In partnership with outlets across the Indiana Local News Initiative, Capital B will work to serve the local market, which is almost 80% Black. 
Tips for covering Indigenous communities.Valerie Vande Panne’s first piece of advice for a non-Native reporter who wants to cover Indigenous communities? Perhaps they shouldn’t. Instead, newsrooms should “hire someone who is Indigenous, from the community you seek to cover, to do the work.” Read the rest of her advice here.


Stay Up To Date

5 days until … Student Press Briefing: Impacts of School Surveillance. The Center for Democracy & Technology invites high school and college students to attend this workshop in recognition of Student Press Freedom Day.

6 days until … Cross-field and civic science journalism collaborations, an informational webinar offered by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University and the Rita Allen Foundation. Associated grant applications are due March 17.

13 days until … the Online News Association’s 2023 Career Day. This five-hour, completely virtual event is designed to help attendees find jobs, fellowships, and higher education opportunities.

What else should we feature? You tell us. Send an email to


A Few More Resources

Looking for a job? Here are a few places to look: INN | ONA | | 10 Jobs and a Dog | NABJ | AAJA | NAHJ | NLGJA | @WritersofColor | MEO Jobs | Freelance Journalist Rates | Source Jobs | Opportunities of the Week ($)   

How about a style guide? Trans Journalist Association | Diversity Style Guide | Tribal Nations Media Guide | NABJ Style Guide | Disability Language Style Guide | AAJA Guide to Covering Asian Pacific America | NAHJ Cultural Competence Handbook |  SPJ Race & Gender Hotline | AMEJA Media Resource Guide | The Press in Prison | The Conscious Style Guide

Thanks for reading our newsletter. If you’re new, you can subscribe here

If you like what you read, we could use your support. Your contribution will go directly to our writers, editors, and any fees required for us to operate. 

We’ll have more for you soon. 

This issue is by Nawar Nemeh and Holly Rosewood with editing by Curtis Yee.

Our stories are funded by readers like you. 

The Objective is a nonprofit newsroom holding journalism accountable for past and current systemic biases in reporting and newsroom practices. We are written by and for those underrepresented in journalism.

Become a sustaining member of The Objective!

Help us examine systems of power and inequity in journalism

We’ve refined our mission and we have a plan to shift the way journalism is done — but we need 33 sustaining members to put it into action. Will you join us today?

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top