National media was on the story, of course. Anderson Cooper of CNN grilled Governor Jay Nixon about the slow release of information on national television, to the delight of some Globe staff members. A.G. Sulzberger, the scion of The New York Times Company family and the paper’s Midwest correspondent, was using the Globe newsroom, a favor Stark had granted.

But the Joplin paper, argues Stark, led the national pack by never straying from the role of community newspaper. “I have been here 30 years,” Stark says. “This is my paper; this is my town. I appreciated the national spotlight on Joplin, but we were not followers. We were leaders of the coverage in the midst of this chaos.”

Stark has examples of how the Globe made a difference. Mark Lindquist, a worker at a Joplin group home for adults with disabilities, was in a coma for nearly two months after trying to save the lives of two men who were residents there. The men died, and when Lindquist emerged from his coma he faced massive medical bills. The insurance company refused worker’s compensation by deeming the tornado an act of God. The Globe ran the story. Then it had the satisfaction of running a follow-up when the insurance company reversed course. The Associated Press followed suit and ran its own story.

The Globe got a scoop when the president of a local credit union spilled the beans on Bank of America, which was withholding insurance checks for homeowners up to 28 days. The bank changed course after the story ran. “We couldn’t make people’s pain go away,” says Ostmeyer, “but maybe we could plow a little ground to make the steps easier.”

Stark tried to give her staff members as much personal time as she could to deal with insurance claims and personal health. Lehr was one who found a therapist. He also found his cat, still crouching under furniture, amid the rubble. For weeks, Lehr purged himself of the storm, in the most literal sense imaginable, plucking pieces of blasted debris—most likely glass, powdered and propelled by the tornado—from his skull.

“A two-way street”

The Globe has received accolades for its ability to connect with and cover its community in the hours, days, and months after the tornado. That includes awards, such as the APME Sweepstakes Award for the series “22 Miracles in May,” in addition to a slew of prizes from the Missouri Press Association. Editor & Publisher awarded the Globe an Eppy Award for Best News or Event Feature on a website with less than 250,000 unique monthly visitors. The Globe’s Roger Nomer was named Missouri AP Photographer of the Year for his iconic image of the disaster, which is at the top of this story. The Missouri Press Association put together a moving documentary about the Globe’s performance. That film, Deadline in Disaster, will be shown in Joplin on May 24.

What might matter more to the people of the Globe are the markers of the newspaper business. The paper has regained revenue ground, thanks in part to a flood of advertisements from insurance companies, contractors, demolition crews, and others who provided essential services to the rebuilding efforts. Against long odds, the Globe’s circulation is nearly back, too. Sunday home delivery was around 20,000. The tornado dropped that number by a thousand. Today, it is back up to 19,750. Single sales of newspapers, meanwhile, surged in the weeks and months after the tornado. Residents propelled Sunday rack sales from an average of about 7,000 to as high as 13,000 in the month after the storm, and Sunday rack sales remained higher than average the rest of the year. Web traffic, usually between 40,000 and 50,000 page views a day, skyrocketed. Between May 22 and June 30, the site was slammed with six million page views. The numbers, of course, have declined since then, but they’re still floating above the norm. Nicolas says new readers became repeat customers.

Bret J. Schulte is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Arkansas. He has previously written for U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, among other publications.