The School of Media will present the exhibition “When Disaster Strikes” and a round table

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When disaster strikes

Reporting community stories during the December tornadoes

Thursday, March 31, 2022

  • 5:30 p.m. Photo Exhibition, Jody Richards Hall Gallery
  • 6:30 p.m. Round tableJody Richards Hall Auditorium

Everyone has a story to tell about the December tornadoes that hit western Kentucky. Journalists in the area began telling these stories even before the tornadoes touched down and continue to shine a light on the struggles people face when rebuilding after the storms.

The University of Western Kentucky School of Media, as part of the John B. Gaines Family Lecture Series, offers an evening looking back at the stories surrounding December’s tornadoes and what was involved in sharing these stories with communities of journalists.

The series includes an opening at 5:30 p.m. for an exhibition of 59 photographs documenting the impact of the tornadoes, taken by photographers from across the region.

At 6:30 p.m., a panel of four journalists will discuss their experiences telling the stories of their communities as the events unfold. Panelists include meteorologist Trent Okerson of WPSD-TV in Paducah, photojournalist Grace Ramey of the Bowling Green Daily News and New York Times national correspondent Rick Rojas. WKU Public Radio host Alana Watson will moderate the discussion.

Panel speakers

Grace Ramey, photojournalist for the Bowling Green Daily News, recalled that she had “never been so scared in my life” when the storm hit her neighborhood in Bowling Green. Ramey immediately emerged into the darkness as rescuers showed up looking for survivors in the rubble left behind. Ramey continues to tell the story of recovery for the Daily News as his community tries to rebuild. https://www.bgdailynews.com/news/slide-show-tornado-slams-bowling-green-area-during-catastrophic-outbreak-in-state/collection_74df2931-2425-5fff-ab18-9774c82b5aab.html

Paducah’s WPSD-NBC chief meteorologist Trent Okerson had been tracking the weather system days before it turned into a historic storm. That day, he broadcast live as the storm moved through the area, hitting surrounding communities. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kfoxBDLA7Q

The Poynter Institute profiled Okerson and his team’s efforts to save lives: https://www.poynter.org/reporting-editing/2021/meet-the-local-news-meteorologist-whose-forecast- saved-lives-in-kentucky/

Rick Rojas, reporter and Nashville bureau chief for The New York Times, covers news throughout the South. Rojas began reporting from Mayfield the morning after the storm, helping to inform national audiences of the destruction left in its wake. Rojas continues to write for national audiences about our communities as they rebuild. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/17/insider/kentucky-tornado-reporting.html; https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/25/us/tornadoes-kentucky.html

Alana Watson, local Bowling Green host for “All Things Considered” on WKU Public Radio, will serve as the evening’s moderator as they discuss the events surrounding the tornado and the role of the community reporter in telling the tough stories in the community. https://www.wkyufm.org/people/alana-watson

If you need more information about the lecture series or would like to connect with one of the panelists, contact organizer Jonathan Adams at [email protected] or (307) 733-6089.

The photo exhibit will be on display March 28 through April 22 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information on the photo exhibit, contact Tim Broekema at [email protected]

About the John B. Gaines Family Lecture Series: The John B. Gaines Family Lecture Series, launched in 2004 in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Gaines family newspaper, the Daily News, brought several award-winning international journalists to WKU. Past conference attendees include the Indianapolis Star Pulitzer Prize-winning team that uncovered the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse cases; The Cincinnati Enquirer Pulitzer Prize-winning team that documented the addiction crisis; journalism icon John Seigenthaler and his son, former NBC network news anchor John Seigenthaler Jr.; Miami Herald Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts; and Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune photojournalist and official White House photographer.

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