By: Nu Yang
A year has passed since an EF-5 tornado tore through Joplin, Mo., May 22, 2011. Buildings were destroyed, and lives were forever changed, but one thing remained the same: The Joplin Globe still had a newspaper to put out. The Globe is published daily with a 30,000 circulation.
The paper’s story is told in the nearly hour-long documentary film “Deadline in Disaster,” produced by the Missouri Press Association and directed by Emmy-award-winning team Beth Pike and Stephen Hudnell with assistance from retired Associated Press correspondent Scott Charton.
Charton reached out to Missouri Press Association executive director Doug Crews with the idea of filming a documentary about the Joplin journalists. The team had previously worked together on another film.
“Within 48 hours of the storm hitting, we were hearing about how the Joplin Globe was doing a wonderful job of getting the news out to people,” Crews said. “There were no cellphones, no Internet, so people in the community became very dependent on the newspaper.”
Globe editor Carol Stark was willing to open her newsroom to the film crew, but she said having a camera around was not going to stop her staff from doing their job. They took to the streets, interviewing people and taking photos, even though they already had a lot on their plates. Many of them no longer had a home or car, and they all were coping with the death of page designer Bruce Baillie.
“The intention of the film was to have a public look inside of a newspaper, side by side with photographers and reporters,” Crews said. “It was a way to humanize what (journalists) do on a daily basis.”
Pike said the film crew followed the Globe staff until October 2011, documenting the work and personal lives of newspaper carriers, photographers, and reporters.
The first film screening took place May 3 in Columbia, Mo., to a crowd of 600 people, including Joplin residents, volunteers, and Globe staff. In one scene, reporter Wally Kennedy recalled the moment he arrived at the hospital to interview survivors, only to find hundreds of people “covered in mud and blood.”
“I took my journalist’s hat off … and put on the hat of a Joplin resident,” he said in the film. He started to hand out blankets and made sure people had a place to sit.
For Stark, the May 3 screening was her first time watching the documentary. “I cried all the way through, but it’s not a sad story. It’s not a story about a tornado; it’s a story about a newsroom.”
At the screening, a silent auction to help fund a memorial in Joplin for tornado victims and survivors raised nearly $4,000, according to Pike. Part of the exhibit will focus on the Globe’s work after the storm.
On May 24 — two days after the first anniversary of the tornado — the film was screened in Joplin. Stark said the paper gave out 1,300 free tickets to the viewing.
Looking back over this past year, Stark said she now has a better newspaper. “I haven’t lost one single reporter. For many, Joplin is their town, and young reporters are coming to work here from other places. We’re more in tune with our readers, our site is lively, and there’s more urgency to our paper.”
Pike said she would like to take the film nationally and show it at film festivals around the country, while Crews said his goal is to use the film in journalism classrooms as a teaching tool.
The “Deadline in Disaster” DVD is available for purchase at deadlineindisaster.com.