The Big Four affiliates in Joplin, Mo., are working around the clock to cover the devastation wrought by Sunday’s tornado. With much of the city in ruins, relatively small news departments and employees displaced from their homes, local broadcasters asked the Missouri Broadcasters Association for assistance in finding news staff from outside the market that could help in the coverage and for diesel fuel to keep emergency generators running.
Mo. TVs Cope With Close-To-Home Tragedy
In the wake of the devastating tornado that ravaged the city, TV stations in Joplin, Mo. (DMA 148), continue to struggle to cover the twister’s aftermath in the face of limited mobility, communications and power.
On Monday, news teams representing the market’s Big Four network affiliates grappled with closed roads, downed power lines, limited or no cell phone coverage and human suffering in covering the story, news executives said.
With much of Joplin in ruins, relatively small news departments and employees displaced from their homes, local broadcasters asked the Missouri Broadcasters Association for assistance in finding news staff from outside the market that could help in the coverage, MBA President Don Hicks said.
Hicks also arranged for an emergency delivery of diesel fuel Tuesday to keep the station’s emergency generators operating, as their supply was expected to run out by noon Tuesday, he said.
“Half the town is shut down,” said Terry Cunningham, operations manager of Nexstar’s KSNF, the NBC affiliate, and KODE, the market’s ABC affiliate which Nexstar manages under a local service agreement with Mission Broadcasting.
“It’s taking about an hour to get back and forth, poles are down, the National Guard is out and roads are closed,” he said Monday afternoon. “We are trying to get into neighborhoods, schools, shelters. I’m just waiting.”
The newsroom shared by Saga Communications-owned KOAM, the CBS affiliate, and KFJX, the Fox affiliate, was filled with everyone from sales to support staff, who answered working landlines trying to help callers locate information, relatives and friends, said News Director Kristi Spencer.
The stations used their websites and Facebook pages to distribute information, such as shelter and Red Cross locations.
The stations, Spencer said, stayed with their regular programming until about 8:45 Sunday night — the tornado touched down around 6 p.m. — when crews started to make it back to the studio with footage.
“We had to go out but we couldn’t do phoners, we couldn’t communicate with them,” she said.
On Monday, the stations’ entire team was on location, including production staff who shot video, but delivering news was still a struggle. “Communication is almost next to impossible,” she said. “It’s very difficult.”
And, Spencer added, “we have probably six or seven families that work here that don’t have homes anymore and so we’re trying to provide for them and trying to cover the news.”
Hicks said he doesn’t expect any dramatic progress on infrastructure problems that are impeding news coverage, like fallen telephone poles and closed roads, in the very near future, as emergency crews are still focusing their efforts on recovering victims.
In turn, TV news crews, who already were showing fatigue Monday afternoon, can expect little immediate relief.
“All the reporters are out right now and they have been since about 6 o’clock yesterday, so I’m a little fried,” Cunningham said.