From the Arbor | News for August from Jerry Weakley
It’s rare now that I have reached the age of 60+ that I recall with great certainty or clarity any classroom material from my days as a student on the Baldwin City campus. Perhaps a subject or two or a speaker that made a real impact may come back into the present day memory on occasion but really not as much as one might hope.
This summer while on an extended car trip to the Gulf Coast and farther down into Florida, one of the class subjects that I had studied at Baker came roaring back to mind.
The BP oil spill and the overwhelming coverage it received by every form of press, both nationally and internationally, are what caused this revisiting of past school subjects. And the subject I revisited was . . . the POWER of the Press!
In classes both with Ms. Paulsen in journalism and with Dwayne Smith in broadcasting we constantly studied, discussed and completed projects where real instances of the Power of the Press were the national topic du jour. In our wide travels while in school to attend conferences of the Kansas Association of Radio Broadcasters, the national NAB and other conferences, this was a subject of much discussion, especially by the professionals of the day.
In preparing for our vacation this summer that had been planned for almost a year, I found myself absorbed in reading everything I could about the current oil spill. I followed its reported progress almost religiously on the nightly news and again on websites that recorded the spread of the spill across the breadth of the Gulf. From all this I deduced that it was fairly certain that we would either need to change elements of our trip or that some of our vacation would be ruined by the oil we would obviously encounter on the beaches we had planned to visit. The images of waterfowl in Louisiana and coastal marshes being overrun by the oozing mess were images I carried to bed every night for weeks.
In actuality, having elected to move forward as originally planned and to use those beach visits to view up close the damage that was being done, when we arrived at our first Gulf Coastal beach near Natchez, Miss., we were shocked to see fine white sand beaches stretching for miles in every direction, but with fewer people enjoying them than had probably visited the Baldwin City swimming pool that day. In talking with environmental agents and members of the coast guard, we were told that the oil had indeed passed by the area but was being contained almost entirely by booms that had been put in place across harbors and inlets.
The damage being done to this area and to the others we experienced from Mobile, Ala., and on into Cedar Key, Crystal River, Sarasota Beach (Lido Key) and on down the Florida coast was the same: lack of tourists. At a time when these areas usually have lots of summertime family visitors for the beach and vacationing, there seemed to be no one there. No hotel at which we stayed was anywhere near capacity, restaurants required no reservations, and stores were either closing due to the lack of customers or staying open much later than normal in hopes that someone might possibly come in and buy something. WOW . . . what an example of the modern-day Power of the Press!
This should in no way be taken as downplaying the real damage already done by the oil spill or the future damage that remains largely unknown at this time. It is meant only as an example of how the press in this case painted such an ominous and overbearing picture and story of the incident that it in effect made the impact of the disaster even worse in scope through its effect on tourism and the economy of several states and thousands of individual businesses and their owners and employees.
It is this lesson freshly revisited that now sharply rekindles my own personal thoughts about the Power of the Press. As I return to campus to pen another issue of the Arbor, I do so with more of a self-imposed weight of responsibility to never abuse the power of the written word. For after some 40 years, I have once and for all been indelibly reminded of what the Power of the Press can do.
Access this late-summer issue of the Arbor. I hope you will find several items that will keep you informed, entertained and engaged!
Jerry Weakley ’70/MBA ’92
P.S. If you plan to be on the Baldwin City campus anytime this summer or fall, I hope you will call 785.594.8332 or drop by my office on the “garden level” of Parmenter Hall. I would love to meet you or see you again!