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Union Pacific editor contributes to saving lives on the railroad

By Claire Pritchard
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Editors are credited for saving publications from embarrassing mistakes, but you rarely find them saving employees from life or death situations. For Anne Walsh, director of employee communications at Union Pacific, safety is her top priority.

“My goal before I leave Union Pacific is if we could make it a year having nobody killed,”

Anne Walsh, Director of Employee Communications at Union Pacific (Photo courtesy of Anne Walsh)

Anne Walsh, director of employee communications at Union Pacific (Photo courtesy of Anne Walsh)

Walsh said in a phone interview. “I feel that the communications we have really makes a difference.”

Walsh began her journalism career while attending the University of Nebraska-Omaha. There, she worked for the student-run publication, The Gateway, holding a variety of positions including managing editor.

Walsh quickly accepted an internship position at the Omaha World-Herald but was keeping her eyes open for a new opportunity. She heard of an internship at UP from her husband, Pat, who worked there at the time. Soon after applying, Walsh accepted the internship and ended up staying for 30 years.

No two days are the same for an editor. A key role for Walsh is to be able to act and react to the company’s internal and external communications.

The only constant in her job is editing the UP Online daily newsletter, which contains two to three new articles each day. Walsh also oversees Information Television (ITV), which consists of more than 800 television monitors updated 24/7 with content put in the daily newsletter. ITV advocates effective communication throughout the company, reaching all employee offices of UP, including railroad break rooms.

“People are used to instant information,” Walsh said. “You have to be able to react really quickly. All the studies show that information is picked up more when it’s accompanied by a picture or video.”

In addition to ITV, social media plays a pivotal role in sharing information. Service Solute is just one example of how social media has created a positive atmosphere for UP employees. Like Twitter, Service Solute is an online publication that each employee has access to. There, employees post compliments or acknowledgments of kind or helpful acts performed throughout the company.

Much like positive communication, safety is a prized value for UP. Keeping employees engaged and making sure they understand both internal and external communications makes all the difference in safety. One campaign, Courage to Care, promotes personal commitment to being safe and having the courage to tell others when they are doing something that could be harmful or potentially life-threatening.

“By the size of equipment and speed at which it runs, if you lose concentration or are distracted you could get seriously hurt or killed,” Walsh said. “Safety is a large part of our communications — it’s a big focus.”

Walsh’s goal is that everyone gets home safely to their families. Safety Stand Down is a campaign that requires all railroad employees to stop for 30 to 60 minutes to watch a video promoting ways to keep them safe. Since the campaign started, the number of deaths on the railroad has declined.

For an editor, effective communication is what differentiates information that is told from what is heard. For Walsh, effective communication has improved safety for UP employees.

For an aspiring editor or communications employee, Walsh offers advice.

“Get internships and write. It’s the easiest thing you can do.”

Walsh said that getting involved in student publications is an easy and effective way to gain experience. Working with other students gives you the skills you need to work as a team player.

“You walk over there, and you edit,” she said.  “You are all learning from each other, but more importantly your work is real.”

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