“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.
“How do you measure that?” Lehr asks. “As we get away from that event now, going on a year, it’s hard to say what carryover there’s going to be with readers. I think there was appreciation of our coverage of the tornado, but readers are a changing lot. They move away and others move in, and it’s what have you done for me lately that matters. I think we’re still too close to see what it will mean for the Globe.
“I hope for greater understanding on my part,” Lehr says, “and that’s about all I can wish for.”