Amtrak Announces Writers’ Residency Winners, Keeps Romantic Sentiment Rolling


Just goes without saying
That everybody loves a train
Go ahead and call us insane
But we all just love a train

– Perez Hidalgo, Los Lobos

Amtrak announced the 24 winners of the Amtrak Writers’ Residency program (a.k.a. #AmtrakResidency on social media) today from pool of 16,000 applicants. Flip through the list and you’ll find prominent writers who have significant social followings and commercial success.

There’s Chris Taylor from Mashable, Marco Werman from PRI’s “The World,” Jen Carson from Gothamist, fantasy writer and social media marketer Ksenia Anske, and poet/performance artist Saul Williams (to name a few).

All are very influential on Twitter. No surprise there.

Though this blog has raised points about the economics of writing and the opportunistic nature of the program, it’s a great example of building a PR ploy based on the feedback of the public. The idea began as a mention in a PEN interview, which generated Tweets from Zach Steward and friends. Amtrak listened, and a content marketing program began its trip down the tracks.

We will assume common sense prevailed in the requirements within the contracts given to the lucky winners. No requirements to write about the trip or social posts about Amtrak, right? That should happen organically. You can imagine what two dozen writers prominent writers would do if not treated well…

For minimal investment, Amtrak has already earned ink in the Paris Review as well as Steward’s follow-up story for Quartz on the winners. Like telcos and airlines, Amtrak is one of those things that gets mostly negative media attention and torrents of #PRFail havoc.

So: steak au poivre or Alaskan salmon this evening?