The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Columns

August 7, 2011

Carol Stark: Joplin tornado redefines mission of newspapers

Their job is to look out for the newspapers in their own state. But the story of Joplin’s tornado is one that apparently knows no boundaries.

Last week I traveled to speak to members of the Newspaper Association Managers at their annual conference being held in Branson. Managers of state, regional and national press associations from across the United States and Canada attended the conference. Even some 10 weeks after the May 22 tornado that devastated a third of Joplin, and left a third of The Joplin Globe’s employees without homes or cars or both, it all seemed so fresh and raw in the retelling. So much so that 45 minutes later, when I sat down, I was emotionally spent and many of those in the room were crying.

There have been many interviews here in the Globe newsroom with other media, but this was the first time I had ventured out to speak to a room filled with those working within the news industry. Consider that many of those in attendance are longtime journalists.

They helped papers in the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the eruption of Mount St. Helens and the Gulf oil spill. They all understand the nature of crisis reporting.

What I think they were looking for was the confirmation that, in times of disaster, the public still turns to the newspaper. Just like it’s my bread and butter, it’s theirs too. And as an industry, if we can’t step up to the plate in times like these, then we’ve failed.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the message I had to deliver. Mine was to describe the noble cause we in our newsroom have felt since May 22.

It’s one thing to be a reporter. It’s another to do the job when you no longer have a house or a car — or a change of clothes.

It’s one thing to be a photographer. It’s another to pull people to safety, even while there’s a camera draped around your neck and a photo waiting to be taken.

It’s one thing to document the biggest weather event of your career. It’s another to try to push aside the visions of horrible carnage witnessed while doing your job.

The Missouri Press Association has played a big part in the healing process here at the Globe. Doug Crews, the executive director of the MPA, headquartered in Columbia, told me it’s new territory for them as well. He could remember no time when a paper’s own employees have experienced such personal loss even while covering the disaster. A fund for Joplin Globe employees, established through the MPA, received donations from across the United States. Many attending the conference were responsible for collecting funds within their own states.

Their help is one of the reasons that Globe photographer T. Rob Brown has replaced his flattened car. Reporter Jeff Lehr, who emerged from a pile of rubble that once was his home, is no longer living in a motel room. Features Editor Joe Hadsall has just signed the papers on a house. The stories inside our building and from within our community go on and on.

And so does the help.

The tornado has redefined our work here at The Joplin Globe for many months, possibly years, to come. And it’s this incredible sense of purpose that continues to fuel my staff.

I was asked last week what one thing I will take away from May 22. I thought for only a moment.

When put to the test, my staff didn’t just rise to the occasion. It had to rise above it.

It’s a message I proudly deliver.

Carol Stark is editor of The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to her, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email cstark@joplinglobe.com.

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