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Film Chronicles Joplin Newspaper’s Tornado Efforts

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — In the frantic, surreal moments following the deadly Joplin tornado of May 2011, survivors took stock of the damage, counting lives lost, homes destroyed, loved ones still missing or not heard from.

At The Joplin Globe, there would be little time to take account of what would turn out to be one of the deadliest single tornadoes in this country.

The community — battered but not broken — more than ever needed its daily newspaper.

“Every day, when I would go to the Red Cross center, there was The Joplin Globe,” said Beth Pike, a Columbia-based TV producer sent to southwest Missouri to cover the story for CBS News. “I knew they had a lot of hardship, but they went to print every day.”

Pike, herself the daughter of a small-town newspaperman, saw the potential for a deeper story about the Globe’s commitment to serving its community, even as its own employees dealt with the life-and-death issues they were also reporting on.

The result is “Deadline in Disaster,” an hourlong tribute to the Globe’s resiliency that premieres at the Missouri Theatre on Thursday at 7 p.m. A reception and silent auction to benefit Joplin’s recovery starts one hour earlier. Admission is $12.

Several of the Globe reporters and editors featured in the movie, which was financed by the Missouri Press Association, will participate in a discussion with the audience after the viewing. The Globe contingent is scheduled to meet University of Missouri journalism students earlier in the day.

The May 22, 2011, tornado was the nation’s deadliest in five decades, killing 161 people, including Globe page designer Bruce Baillie. The homes of more than one-fourth of the newspaper’s 117 employees were among the thousands of destroyed and damaged buildings.

Globe editor Carol Stark called her small staff “amazing” for its commitment, recounting how crime reporter Jeff Lehr crawled from a closet, his apartment demolished and possessions destroyed, and then walked to safety so he could flag down a ride to work. His first-person account of those moments is still haunting, nearly one year later. Others worked hours on end for days and weeks straight, living in motels or sleeping on friend’s couches.

The Globe’s efforts have won it industry acclaim, including a deadline news reporting prize from the American Society of Newspaper Editors and an editor- of-the-year award for Stark from another organization. There was serious talk of a Pulitzer Prize, which instead went to the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News for its own tornado coverage.

For Lehr, who said he spent the past year “starting to pull my life back together,” the outside recognition is nice, but more gratifying is knowing that “we served our community well.”

“And I think the community appreciates what we did,” he said. “That’s our greatest award.”

“Deadline in Disaster” will be shown in Joplin on May 24 at 7 p.m. at the Central Christian Center, formerly the Fox Theatre downtown. Admission is free, and the event includes a conversation with the filmmakers and Globe journalists.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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