The Fund for Investigative Journalism

Supporting investigative reporting projects around the world

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  • Billboard Industry Investigation

    Billboard industry investigationFairWarning’s investigation of the billboard industry and its regulators finds illegal, poisonous, tree-clearing practices:

    “Robert J. Barnhart was a crew chief for a billboard company, and a soldier in a war on trees. Trees were the enemy if they spoiled the view of a billboard. On days of an attack, Barnhart, 27, would arrive by dawn at Lamar Advertising Co. in Tallahassee, Fla. After removing the magnetic Lamar logo from a company truck, he would set forth with a machete, a hospital mask and a container of what he described as a ‘pretty gnarly’ herbicide.”

    And a five year long federal research project on whether flashing billboards distract drivers, with suspect results:

    “According to records obtained by FairWarning under the Freedom of Information Act, expert reviewers have told the [Federal Highway Administration] that the study appears to have been botched. The key findings vary so wildly from previous research that, as one reviewer put it, they ‘are not plausible.’ …

    “In the FHWA study, recorded glances were so brief that none came close to 2 seconds or even 1.6 seconds. Only about 1 percent were above three-quarters of a second. In fact, the average was slightly below one-tenth of a second—a number both expert reviewers considered almost impossible.

    ‘The reported glances to billboards here are on the order of 10-times shorter than values reported elsewhere,’ one reviewer wrote. ‘The pattern of results certainly raises questions over the quality and legitimacy of the underlying data.’

    Said the other: ‘The data reported as average glance durations are not plausible.’”

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