Market Eye: Rebuilding JoplinStation staffers block out personal loss to address viewer needs post-tornado 6/20/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
It’s been almost a month since Joplin, Mo., was devastated by a tornado, and
the market is slowly, painfully getting back on its feet. The National Guard
is conducting a massive debris cleanup, residents are meeting with FEMA
and their insurance companies to discuss lost property, and civic leaders
are addressing a severe housing crisis after so many homes were leveled.
Station employees in Joplin–Pittsburg were hit as hard
as the rest of the community, but they’re forging onward,
keeping residents informed on the latest news of the rebuild.
“We’re getting on—it’s the third step of a thousandstep
journey,” says Danny Thomas, president and general
manager at KOAM. Seven station staffers are without
homes, notes Thomas, and one is recovering from “pretty
serious” injuries sustained in the storm.
“You can’t find someone who doesn’t
have the same story,” Thomas says.
The tornado rolled in at 5:41 p.m. on
May 22, and rolled in fast. DMA No. 148
is hardly unfamiliar with tornadoes, but
this one was unique in how quickly it approached.
It also happened to strike a population
center, instead of the miles of open
acreage around town.
KOAM’s meteorologists picked up the
tornado from a camera affixed to the broadcast
tower. “We could see the storm briefly
through the rain wall and see it begin to
form,” says Thomas. “This one formed late,
when it was right on Joplin.”
Stations stayed with the breaking story live
through late news, then cut in with press conferences
and updates and used crawls to keep
viewers informed thereafter. User-generated
photos and videos were part of the coverage
too; KOAM, for one, solicited viewers’ footage
through YouNews. And stations have launched multiple
online initiatives post-tornado.
By early June, local newscasts returned to some semblance
of their pre-tornado selves. “We’ve started covering
the news of the rest of the market. We’ve settled back
into a little more normal newscast,” says John Hoffman,
KSNF vice president and general manager. “But it’s still
the lead story in most newscasts.”
Joplin and Pittsburg are in Missouri and Kansas, respectively,
and the DMA also comprises pieces of Oklahoma
and Arkansas. (KOAM’s call letters represent Kansas,
Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri.) General managers
say many residents identify with the “Four States” region
more than with their particular state of residence.
Saga Communications owns market leader KOAM,
a CBS affiliate. KOAM has a shared services agreement
with Surtsey Productions to manage Fox affiliate KFJX.
KSNF, known locally as “KSN,” is licensed in Joplin. The
NBC affiliate is owned by Nexstar, which has a joint
sales agreement with Mission Broadcasting to manage
ABC affiliate KODE; the two stations have the joint site
fourstateshomepage.com. There is no local CW or MyNetworkTV
affiliate. Cable providers include Cable One.
As Joplin–Pittsburg awaits results of the May sweeps,
KOAM expects to repeat its robust February performance.
KOAM won all the major races then; its 14.1
household rating/31 share at 10 p.m. bested KODE’s
5.3/12. KFJX put up a 6.4/11 at 9 p.m.
KOAM led in 2010 revenue with $7.9 million, according
to BIA/Kelsey, ahead of KSNF’s $4.4 million. KOAM’s
Thomas cites a vigorous weather approach, with two
full time meteorologists, and unwavering integrity in the
newsroom. “We go out of our way to do news that is
news. It sounds easy, but in today’s world, it’s not,” he
says. “We don’t feature advertisers in a story, [and] we
don’t not feature them when they’re in the news.”
Trucking is a major industry in Joplin–Pittsburg, which
one GM refers to as the “crossroads of America.” It’s a big
agricultural center too, and Pillsbury is a key employer.
Stations predictably took sales hits due to the storm.
“Some people have stepped back and had to rethink
their creative,” says Hoffmann. “For the businesses that
are destroyed, obviously that advertising is gone.”
But other businesses are eager to help the market rebuild,
and to spread their marketing messages on TV.
An estimated 18,000 automobiles were
damaged in the tornado, half of them totaled,
and car dealers are spending to fill
the void. Furniture companies and roofers
are stepping up their spend too.
KSNF and KODE held a telethon June 14.
The stations are working with local vendors
on “Rebuild Joplin,” an initiative geared
toward steering the rebuilding business to
local vendors, as opposed to the opportunists
who showed up post-tornado. “Local
businesses can provide all the services people
need,” says Hoffman. “They were here
prior to the tornado and will be here long
after the recovery is complete.”
Thomas says KOAM picked up “thousands”
of subscribers to Doug’s Weather
Call, where viewers get an automated call
from chief meteorologist Doug Heady during
severe weather, since the storm.
KODE will replace Oprah Winfrey with
Dr. Oz. KSNF extended its 6 p.m. news to
an hour last September, and is eyeing the 4 p.m. slot
too. “We continue to look for opportunities to offer local
news to the market,” says Hoffmann.
Station staffers are weary, but are putting viewers’ needs
ahead of their own. “The town took this as a challenge,”
says Thomas, “to be bigger and better than ever.”