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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.”
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