On Saturday I was one of three Wichita State University students who spoke at the Anabaptist Communicators conference in Wichita, Kan.
Joining me was Candice Tullis and Annie Cook, as well as our professor, Les Anderson.
We were there to share our stories and experiences from the two weeks we spent in Greensburg, Kan., producing print articles, radio pieces and video packages about how the town was rebuilding green after an EF-5 tornado decimated the community on May 4, 2007.
The project was titled, “Greensburg Rebirth: Documenting the rebuilding of a community,” and all the work we did can be seen at www.greensburgrebirth.com.
It was a class we all had enrolled in, and Les Anderson was the teacher in charge.
The experience was eye opening for nearly everyone that attended, and that is why we were asked to speak on Saturday.
Members of the Anabaptist Communicators conference, we were told, were communicators generally tied to a specific religious denomination.
One gentleman told us the main purpose of the conference was to brainstorm and come up with a way to reach people of a certain age demographic, which includes people in the age range of 20 to 25 years old.
They were glad three WSU students came to speak because we fit the demographic they are trying to better reach with their communications.
Of course, we found that out after the fact, so I instantly wished I had said more.
I shared a brief story of when our group arrived in Greensburg.
It was a Tuesday, and that afternoon the tornado sirens sounded in Greensburg.
Everyone was instantly on edge, but it seemed to be a false alarm just testing the system.
It was tested several times, and during one test I was in the Greensburg Kwik Shop.
The manager on duty heard the siren and came running to the front of the store while she yelled at the cashier to turn on the weather radio.
The cashier didn’t know how, so the manager flipped it on and nervously listened for the worst. I’ll never forget the look of terror on her face.
It shows, though, how deeply the community has been touched.
Candice and Annie did more reporting on the trip than I did since I was the computer jockey, so they had better stories to tell.
Candice read a blog post she had written, and she talked about a couple of her favorite stories.
Annie talked about the people she had met during her time in Greensburg, specifically mentioning a man who, at the time, was the lone homosexual in Greensburg.
Annie’s telling of his story inspired other gay community members to come out, which is pretty cool considering her story helped them feel safe enough to be publicly true to themselves.
During her portion of the presentation, though, Annie garnered the most laughs. She killed, and everyone really seemed to enjoy it.
Of course, Les also spoke.
He opened and closed our presentation, and as always he had a lot of good things to say.
Personally, I particularly enjoyed hearing him read some of the other students’ blog posts.
They were really good, and I was disappointed in myself that I hadn’t read them previously.
I am going to go and read them all now to see what else I have missed.
Overall, the presentation went well, and I am glad I had the distinguished opportunity to speak with two of my classmates to a room full of people hungry to learn how to utilize what is available in reaching people.
However, looking back I wish I would have said more.
I wish I would have said how working on that project helped me realize how much I enjoyed community journalism and realized its importance, which helped me in preparing to begin work at The Ledger.
Especially in the face of a disaster, a newspaper is a constant, something people can turn to when they have nothing else.
Without a newspaper, victories over the storm, no matter how big or small, can’t be easily shared. People need to know there is hope. A newspaper is the best way to do that because neighbors can see that their friends are making it, which can inspire others not to give up.
The written word is powerful, and after a town is leveled, words can be something that help the community come back from the calamity.
I wish I would have echoed what Annie and Candice said when they talked about the importance of humor and how what people often need is just someone who will truly listen.
The nerd in me wanted to really talk about online and social media; however, Todd Ramsey from the Wichita-based Greteman Group had already done that, and all the conference attendees spoke highly of him.
I should have stuck with what I know, which is small-town journalism and the positives I saw in the people of Greensburg.
I realize hindsight is always clearer, but I still wish I had said more, like what Annie and Candice said.
For the rest of the weekend, I contemplated what else I could have said, and the list keeps growing.
If I ever get the chance again to speak about the Greensburg project, I will be ready to truly share and open up, so I hope the opportunity presents itself again.
However, if it doesn’t, I will still have learned from this presentation. Next time, regardless of what I am asked to speak about, I am going to be ready to go in depth and lay everything out on the proverbial table.
Then, if time or topic constraints require it, I will be able to cut it down to fit the specific needs of the presentation.
For now, though, I urge you to visit www.greensburgrebirth.com and peruse everything we did during out time in that community.
It was a wonderful project.