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.
“What this did was to revalidate our value in our community,” says publisher Mike Beatty. “We were able to identify the kind of thing they wanted to know: Where can they get shelter? Where can they get funds? Where is their help, and who died? Because we’re a community newspaper, we knew who to call and who to talk to. And people were coming to us and giving us information. It was a two-way street. It enhanced our relationship with our readers and our community.”
Meanwhile, the Globe has tried to repay some of the kindness it has seen through a fund of its own, created from a chunk of the donations it received, to help other journalists in crisis. A candidate has already appeared: Earl Kinner, the owner and publisher of The Licking Valley Courier in Kentucky, who lost his house and his office to a tornado on March 2.
Some Globe reporters will tell you they’re changed as a result of the tornado a year ago. And just about all will tell you that immediately after the storm, the connection the paper of Joplin had with the people of Joplin grew stronger. T. Rob Brown, who lost his home and car to the storm, said being a victim of the tornado gave him access to photos no one else got. “When somebody told me what happened to them, I let them know I was affected,” Brown says. “I let them know I was going through it too. That made them more at ease.” Brown shot a tear-soaked prayer service at a local church just days after the storm. “And I cried, too,” he says. “I’m not that emotional a person. It kind of shocked me.”
Staff members disagree on whether that bond has lasted. They take comfort in the fact that the circulation numbers are strong. They’re thankful that advertising is strong. They feel that the local newspaper proved its mettle. That it showed why newspapers matter. They don’t know what that is worth in the long run.