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Opinion & Essays - Oct, 1995 Issue #36 


by: Jon Krakauer
October, 1995 

(Opening the magazine to the article, the first thing that stands out is a picture that looks like it was taken at a concentration camp. Then the words "Death," and "Murder" are prominent in the headings. Then, an explanation it was the result of the author's investigation into wilderness programs. One of the persons intensively interviewed by the author of the story was Larry Wells, head of Wilderness Conquest who has been running successful wilderness programs for 24 years without serious incident. The following is Larry's reaction to the story as it appeared in print, and his disappointment that the negative image presented in the article was contrary to what he felt he had been led to expect -LON.

I feel the article used stark emotions and pictures (the bloated body of Michelle) to grab their audience. I feel Jon did a good job on research and gaining accurate information. But, the slant towards Mormans and the industry has a very negative, inaccurate and unfair effect. 

Personally, I know the negative media, CNN and Dateline, hurt me very hard this year financially. This is because of the cancellations as a result of those media programs. I expect the OUTSIDE magazine article to have a similar effect. 

 I have worked since 1971 to create a good solid treatment program for adolescents and their families. I have worked hard to create a safe program both physically and emotionally, and have spent years presenting the concept to agencies and other interested people. 

 It is very frustrating that all that I and numerous others have done to constructively help troubled teens are being downgraded by the media's focus on three tragedies resulting from a small group of people with flawed programs. 

The most frustrating thing to me are the families that are not going to get the healing they need because of other's greed, and the need to sell magazines, and TV time. 

- Larry Wells, Wilderness Conquest 801-587-2801

(My first reaction on seeing the article was it was just another attempt to sensationalize on a tragedy. Although the author seems to be fairly accurate in the selected information that was presented, the journalism standards seem to be low because anything positive and instructive on wilderness programs was buried in the text, and usually balanced with something negative and often hearsay, while anything appealing to fear was given prominence. Another example of sloppy journalism was the author and magazine missed the opportunity to explore what I think are two other important stories. By a herdlike following of the rest of the media in sensationalizing a tragedy again, they missed the opportunity to talk about kids saved from living on the streets, from frying their brains on drugs, and from too close an involvement with gangs. They also missed the opportunity to clearly instruct their readers that these paramilitary programs, where the deaths occurred, are rogue programs with very little in common with reputable wilderness programs, which have outstanding safety records, and which have routinely criticized a paramilitary approach. Emphasizing that there are vast differences could have given parents information to help them avoid the dangerous programs, instead of just giving the impression that ALL wilderness programs are dangerous, insensitive, and to be avoided. 

In a follow up call after the article was published, the author told Larry Wells that the magazine cut out about a third of his article, and most of that was positive to the industry. In a sense of fairness and as a small attempt to supplement their journalistic standards, Woodbury Reports will be happy to print the material that Outside magazine cut out of the original draft. I also would like to print other reactions to the article. - LON 

Copyright 1995, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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