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2013 Media News

End-of-the-world prediction is the beginning of international media coverage for Maya expert

January 8, 2013

Dr. Walter Witschey
Dr. Walter Witschey

Longwood University recently reaped national and international publicity through a faculty member’s expertise in ancient Mayan culture.

Dr. Walter Witschey was quoted in news articles as far away as Indonesia, Russia, Italy and Peru, as well as throughout the United States, concerning the widespread but erroneous view that the Maya Long Count calendar predicted the world would end on or around Dec. 21, 2012. News outlets that ran stories included FoxNews.com, NBCNews.com, CBSNews.com, Yahoo! News, the International Business Times website, MSN News Canada, LiveScience.com, the Huffington Post (a popular news website and blog) and newspapers throughout Virginia and the rest of the country including the Washington Times (on its front page) and the Buffalo News. Overall, more than 60 outlets ran the story, including international publications in Hungary, Germany, England and Ireland, in addition to the foreign countries already mentioned.

"The coverage just snowballed," said Eliza Winston, an assistant account executive with the Richmond office of the public relations and marketing agency CRT/tanaka, which often assists Longwood’s publicity efforts. "I attribute this to the fortunate combination of an amazing expert on an issue of international interest and the timing—we had the source they wanted right when they wanted it. Reporters and editors all around the world were interested in this, so Longwood was able to get widespread news coverage."

An in-depth story by LiveScience.com—the result of a phone interview that senior writer Stephanie Pappas conducted with Witschey—was "picked up by more than 50 outlets and sometimes tweaked," Winston said. CRT/tanaka uses a figure called "total impressions" to calculate the overall number of readers/website visitors who had an opportunity to read stories. For Witschey and the Maya calendar story, that number is 96 million. Most of the stories ran during the week of Dec. 16-22.

Efforts to secure news coverage of Witschey’s expertise were initiated by Longwood’s Public Relations office—a news release was posted Nov. 20 on the university’s website—and then coordinated by CRT/tanaka. "We reached out to reporters and editors who we thought would be interested. It was a fun story to ‘pitch,’ and it was exciting to see the pick-up," said Winston.