Illinois student paper tells students to play dead during a tornado

The editors at the The Daily Eastern News, a student paper at Eastern Illinois University, responded the way many media outlets did when deadly tornadoes began hitting the Midwest.

This photo shows how the story originally appeared in print. It’s been corrected online.

The staff published an article offering tips on how to prepare for a tornado and how to survive when one hits. Most of the editorial offered good advice, such as to have a disaster kit filled with “nonperishable food, bottles of water, blankets, pillows, several flashlights and lanterns (battery-powered, as the old-school models have a tendency to light things on fire).”

It also told readers to find a radio that works without requiring electricity, and to head to a basement if a tornado approaches the area. Then things went off the rails in the story’s final two paragraphs:

If a tornado touches down while you’re walking to class and you are far from shelter, lie face down in a ditch. Besides protecting yourself from flying debris, this is also a good way to convince the tornado that you are already dead and not worth chasing.

There are many benefits to surviving a tornado, including having a wicked story to tell and not dying.

It’s a pretty jarring transition from serious life-and-death tips to play-dead-so-the tornado-leaves-you-alone. The story is further undercut by a correction that reveals some of the initial advice in the staff editorial was dangerous:

Correction: The original version of this editorial suggested supplies should be enough to last 48 hours. FEMA suggests 72 hours worth of supplies. It also suggested waiting until Charleston sirens gave the “all clear” to leave the apartment. There is no announcement of the tornado’s passing, it simply stops.

An editor should have made like that siren and stopped this article when there was nothing useful left to say.

Hat tip to @AsianStig, who tweeted an image of the story.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Kevin Bottrell

     Yes you are right about that, it could have been better than a rather dramatic change in tone like that. You don’t want to lead with tragedy and jump to comedy.

  • CraigSilverman

    I have no objection to humor, and I use it all the time with corrections/erros etc. But I don’t think it’s used well in this article. If they want to write a guide to tornadoes that attempts to lighten things up, then make that clear and use humor throughout. But to lead with the fact that many people have died, follow up with serious advice and then suddenly introduce some yuks seems poorly executed. 

    Is this really the kind of article to have some fun with?

  • David

    Reminds me of Les Nessman’s “godless tornadoes.”

  • Kevin Bottrell

    I completely agree. I think we don’t allow for nearly enough humor in print media today. Humor can be a good way of getting a point across, especially given this paper’s intended audience. I wouldn’t have used it in my paper, but I think it’s fine for a college paper.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, I’m as grumpy and crusty an old curmudgeon as there is, and I thought this was funny. I understand the article was supposed to convey serious information about a potentially tragic situation. But these are college kids, after all. Let ‘em have their fun. It won’t be long til they can’t anymore.