Are geography skills that bad?

Published 6:00 am Friday, September 1, 2017

The press release that settled in my email’s inbox said “Local Family to Appear on Family Feud.”

Curious to see which family from our area would get their 15 minutes or better of fame on national television, I opened the prompt only to find the “local family” was from Hattiesburg, nowhere near our circulation area.

As usual, this email set my blood to boiling. As a newspaper, we get hundreds, probably thousands, of these “local family,” “local man,” “local woman,” or “local student” press releases emailed or mailed to us every year, and every time I am amazed at how geographically ignorant these people are of our state. This is a phenomenon I’ve observed as long as I’ve been in this business, which is longer than some people I know have been on this earth.

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My first exposure to this condition was back when I was working part time for a weekly newspaper while I was still in college. The paper was the Plaquemine Post, a weekly newspaper in Plaquemine, La., the parish seat of Iberville Parish. We would constantly get press releases from NOAA about hurricane evacuation routes for Plaquemines Parish, which is south of New Orleans and juts out into the Gulf of Mexico. The parish seat is Pointe a’ la Hache.

I’m guessing the person pounding out the press release either was too lazy check a map of Louisiana or decided that Plaquemine, La., had to be the parish seat for Plaquemines Parish.

So looking back on that experience, I have to wonder, when publicists working for these multi-million dollar consulting firms prepare to send out a press release, do they ever check a state map to see where a particular city is, or do they just write the thing and mail it wholesale — kind of a “throw it up against the wall and see where it sticks” mentality.

This phenomenon is not limited to the PR elite. It’s rampant among other media. Who can recall that famous Weather Channel faux pas a few years ago, when the meteorologist discussing the location of a storm in the Gulf described Mississippi as “that land mass between Louisiana and Alabama.”

But this whole situation, I’m sorry to say, is a symbol of a national phenomenon. Many people are geographically ignorant, according to articles I’ve read over the years.

When I was in elementary school and junior high, we had a period dedicated geography. When I was in college geography was emphasized in one of my freshman history classes.

I think it’s time we re-emphasized geography. This world is getting smaller, and we need to know more about the countries we interact with.

I can laugh at the miscues of others and their ignorance, but I find it tragic that with all the reference resources available that people cannot take the time to check the location of a city or a town or a country.

It’s more tragic no one seems to care, and that can hurt us.

John Surratt is a staff writer at The Vicksburg Post. You may reach him at john.surratt@vicksburgpost.com.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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