Chip Minemyer

Ten members of Carol Stark’s newsroom lost their homes when a tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo., last Sunday evening.

One of their colleagues was killed in the storm.

And yet, those news professionals keep coming to work to tell the story of the worst tornado in the United States in half a century.

“A lot of my folks want to be in here – working,” Stark said from that newsroom in Joplin. “If they’re in here, they don’t have to go out and do things that are harder.

“I’ve had to force some of them to take some time and deal with their own loss. But they won’t leave.”

That mindset is reminiscent of how journalists in Johns-town reacted in the after-math of the 1977 flood that claimed 83 lives and did millions of dollars in property damage.

The Tribune-Democrat continued to publish – continued to tell the horrific story – even as reporters, photographers, editors and other staffers worked to put their lives back together.

In all, Stark said, 27 employees across all departments at the Joplin newspaper company lost their homes.

And on Thursday, the staff there confirmed what they had feared for days: One of their own was among the more than 125 people who perished in the tornado.

Page designer Bruce Baillie had been missing since Sunday, so the Globe’s workers had feared the worst.

The news that his body had been found was one more dark moment in a long, painful week for people who get paid to report the news – even when they’re part of the story.

The Globe is a sister newspaper of The Tribune-Democrat, both owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. of Alabama.

“There are a lot of the things you have learn to do – like breaking the bad news to someone’s relatives,” Stark said, “and of course, helping your reporters and staff who are still trying to get the paper out.”

Some moments have approached the surreal.

Reporter Jeff Lehr emerged from his demolished apartment building Sunday, made his way to the Globe and wrote a powerful first-person account of the devastation that appeared in The Tribune-Democrat on Tuesday.

Lehr’s chilling piece ended with these words: “An older couple in a car pull up to their home. They are among the lucky. They ask if I’m OK. I tell them I’m one of the many who have lost their homes. I ask if they can take me to the newspaper. I have an awful job to do.”

A few days after writing that story, Lehr was interviewed by Brian Williams on an NBC newscast.

But few of the Globe’s reporters have become stars.

Most are simply finding the courage to keep writing their stories, taking their pictures, delivering the newspaper – in the midst of an unimaginable tragedy.

“They’re tired,” Stark said.

“They start crying in the middle of a sentence ...

“The disaster is more than you could imagine. The path is six miles long and half a mile wide, and absolutely the worst thing I’ve ever seen.

“My chief designer, his kids lost their home and he hasn’t had any time to spend with them,” she said. “That’s what it’s been like.”

Journalists from neighboring states have made their way to Joplin to volunteer their help.

Officials from the parent company toured the community and rolled up their sleeves to help in the newsroom.

Financial and emotional support has poured in from across the country. A newspaper in Alabama that had endured a tornado just weeks earlier sent a care package.

Employees here at The Tribune-Democrat are offering money – and words of encouragement – to their brothers and sisters in Joplin.

And each day, the heroes at the Globe wake up in the ruins of their town and broken lives and go to work.

“People have been very gracious,” Stark said. “It’s very gratifying, and makes you realize how very important what we do is.

“Cable TV has been down the whole time. A lot of people don’t have power. But they always still get a paper. We’re publishing every day and delivering the paper.

“Sometimes we’re delivering to a house that has nothing left but the foundation. But we’re still out there.”

 

Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.

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