joplin-globe-sunday-tornado-editiion2For journalists at the Joplin Globe, junk food has gone a long way these past few weeks.
For one thing, a steady stream of snacks has helped sustain newsroom staffers through heaps of reporting that must seem as impenetrable as the rubble from May 22's deadly twister, which left swaths of their Missouri town in ruins. But while many reporters fuel themselves through deadlines with dubiously nutritional fare, the Globe's current snack larder is a testament to human kindness in the face of daunting adversity: small-town publications around the country have sent the paper care packages filled with candy, pretzels, energy bars, coffee, and other comforts. They got one from Alabama's Tuscaloosa News, whose community likewise endured devastating tornadoes earlier this year, and also from a paper in Roanoke, Va., that was on the front lines of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.
Last Friday, the Joplin newsroom received a care package from a daily in Omaha, together with a note that read: "The staff of The World-Herald knows from experience how taxing a story of major community tragedy can be on everyone ... We hope [this package] will lift your spirits and provide some relief from the stress and grind."
Omaha's gift basket included one very common stress remedy: a case of Busch Light. "We laughed about that," Carol Stark, the Globe's editor-in-chief, told The Cutline on Monday. "But just a little."
The mood in the newsroom is understandably subdued--especially since the paper lost one of its own in the deadly storm: 56-year-old copy editor and page designer Bruce Baillie. He was killed on his day off while riding out the storm in a top-floor apartment that stood in the tornado's path. "It's a pretty big hit our paper took," said Stark, who added the staff may crack open the Busch cans during an upcoming newsroom memorial scheduled for Baillie.
Baillie was the only member of the Globe's 117-person staff to die that Sunday evening several weeks ago. (The tornado claimed some 140 lives in all, making it among the worst twisters in American history.) But 26 lost their homes, including nine members of the newsroom. Nevertheless, even those reporters have been hitting their deadlines. "We work on adrenaline here," said Stark.
And the paper has been able to rely on outside help for more than just snack food. Newshounds coast to coast--as well as sympathetic civilians--have been funneling money and resources to the Globe employees whose lives were uprooted by the tornado. Others, meanwhile, have volunteered their time and skills to help get the 32,000-circulation broadsheet out the door each day as it toils through endless followup coverage.
"What is reinforced is the value of your town's newspaper," said Stark. She had just opened an envelope containing a $1,500 check from a South Carolina couple. "It validates what we do."
As with all of Joplin, a city of 50,000 in the southwest corner of the state, relief arrived in the Globe's offices almost immediately.
The paper's parent company, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. of Birmingham, Ala., rushed in to provide emergency financial assistance and establish a disaster relief fund. The Missouri Press Association created a separate disaster fund for the impacted employees the following day.
"When we heard how many lives had been affected at the Globe, we thought this would be the best thing," said Doug Crews, the association's executive director.
The first donation rolled in at 2 p.m. on May 24--$200 from the Missouri-Kansas bureau of the Associated Press. Then: $25 here, $50 there; one group contributed a whopping $5,000. Now, two weeks later, the coffers are $40,000 deep, according to Crews. Suburban Newspapers of America has raised an additional $7,000 for the fund, said the organization's president, Nancy Lane. The donation line will remain open for at least the next month.
"A lot of these folks work at papers and their hearts go out to these people in Joplin," said Crews. Lane added: "It has been fantastic to see the industry come together to help. Many top consultants from the industry have also contributed."
Other press groups are helping to spread the word through targeted email letters and Twitter campaigns.
"We're hoping that by doing this we're going to be able to get some folks to send donations," said Jane McDonnell, executive director of the Online News Association.
Stark and her team have been moved by the outpouring. "I don't know that a day goes by that somebody here doesn't break down into tears because of all the generosity," she said.
Of course money is not the only form of charity. Students from the University of Missouri's journalism school, for instance, have offered to string for the paper or otherwise assist in the editorial and production process. Investigative Reporters and Editors, a Missouri nonprofit, has offered long-term pro bono data mining assistance. And Florida's Poynter Institute has offered up one of its multimedia trainers, also pro bono.
Stark said she was humbled by these various gestures, but had not accepted any of them. She has, however, taken up the Associated Press on its offering of two reporters to provide newsroom relief through June 17 on the wire's dime.
"We work together with our members to not only cover the news, but to also lend a hand when our members are personally affected by the news," said Kia Breaux, AP's Missouri-Kansas bureau chief.
The AP will also assist with an interactive web graphic focusing "on the loss of life in the storm, pairing photos of the victims and bios with audio and other visual elements," according to an internal memo. The wire service will produce the graphic in conjunction with a special June 12 Sunday edition of the Globe slated to feature mini-profiles of all those who died--"little nuggets to put a face on the storm," said Stark.
"We all knew somebody who died," she said. "This will be our attempt to say goodbye."