A week ago, Dan Stessel was on an Amtrak train traveling from Newark, N.J., to the District, when he found himself watching a clip of D.C. resident Dwight Harris having an encounter with transit police.
On his way here to assume the role of chief spokesman for Metro, the 35-year-old Stessel watched the now-viral video: Harris, a man in a wheelchair, shoved to a U Street sidewalk in the midst of being arrested for having cracked open a can of malt liquor. Stessel immediately emailed his future colleagues: “You guys should take a look at this,” he remembers writing.
Now that he’s taken his post, the former New Jersey Transit flack has seen the intensity Metro’s communications office can offer. Besides the ordeal with Harris, there was a carjacking in a Metro parking lot and a customer who jumped in front of a train. But Stessel says he faced similar drama at his old job. “At any moment you’re at Defcon one,” he says.
During such moments, Metro has often been opaque. The blog Unsuck D.C. Metro has long hammered the transit system for its lack of transparency. Stessel seems to be interested in putting an end to that. His first day of work, he was a guest blogger on the site.
As director of communications, he plans on engaging Metro riders through all available outlets, including Twitter, where Metro will reply to customer tweets. His ultimate goal is to make the Unsuck blog, which shines light on Metro’s blunders, irrelevant by helping to improve both customer service and communication. “My goal is in several years, not to need it,” he says of Unsuck.
Prodded about times when Metro seemed to put out spurious information, particularly when it comes to Metro crimes, Stessel says he can’t comment on any past incidents. But he does offer that “information deteriorates the more people it flows through.” So Stessel says one thing he’ll be attempting to do is to make Metro employees, like transit police officials, directly available to reporters. Considering the amount of explaining something like the Harris video would take, let’s hope that works out.
Photo courtesy of WMATA