Relocating (or Wabtec and Waffles)

Well, we’ve got Wabtec and Waffles, that sounds like a bad buddy cop show about a cyborg and his nerdy human partner.

March 6, 2019

I’ve lived in Erie for about two months now, and naturally there are many things I don’t know about my new city, but I’ve done my best to learn as I go along. After all, I come from Pittsburgh which has to be one of the more quirky-yet-charming cities in the northeastern United States.

We take pride in pronouncing Duquesne as “doo-KAYNE” and North Versailles as “vuhr-SALES.” Northwestern Pennsylvania has its own pronunciation quirks, like McKean Township is pronounced “muh-CAINE”. And then there’s the beast of spelling that is Sterrettania Road.

The wild thing about working in news is your job is to adapt to the interests and needs of your community, while simultaneously having limited places to work and an almost inherent need to relocate. In other words, I’m responsible for setting the agenda for a newscast in a city where I only know how to get to the grocery store, church, work and gas station.

Granted, coming from a nearby city, there is a lot in common between the interests of Pittsburghers and folks from Erie: people care about unions and industry. There are also universal interests like dogs and underdog stories.

The idea of “local” sometimes lends itself to a mob mentality. People easily unite toward a cause and that can become its own phenomenon. This week we had two major stories captivate Erie: the Wabtec union strike and the story of a missing dog named Waffles.

As a primer: Wabtec merged with GE Transportation in late February and contract talks between the GE workers union and Wabtec broke down, resulting in a 9 day long strike that had solidarity coming from fellow unions and even Bernie Sanders.

As a primer: Waffles went missing when a bicyclist scared him off at Presque Isle State Park. He wasn’t on a leash, and went missing out on the ice. And then he was found. The people of Erie have adopted this dog as the mascot of the Flagship City. He’s even got his own charity t-shirt.

When I learned about the fundamentals of journalism, one of the major news determinants in news judgement is impact. Basically, the more people a story impacts, the more important it is.

Having rules works sometimes, and then there are instances like a corgi turning up alive after a 60 hour search. Then there are instances where a company merger turns into a 9 day strike that ends with a temporary agreement.

Should a 9-month-old corgi have been on a leash? Yeah, probably.

Should Wabtec and its workers union have worked out something prior to a multi-million dollar merger taking place? Yeah, probably.

That all said – it’s my job to know (or guess with the help of my coworkers) when people care about a story. These two stories have a common thread in that they can be distilled into underdog stories: workers with a proud history of manufacturing stood up to a company that had just merged its way into their home and a young dog survived 60 hours in freezing temperatures.

Call me a sellout, but I can completely get behind this bizarre phenomenon adopting Waffles as Erie’s dog. I believe it’s possible to acknowledge a story’s nuance and also celebrate the unlikely characters within that story.

And hey, if Waffles can do it, maybe we can too.

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