CNN’s TJ Holmes on Covering Joplin, Missouri: ‘You are not trying to be a robot, you report the story as any human being would’

By Alex Weprin Comment

CNN’s TJ Holmes is more familiar with the city of Joplin, MO than many other TV news correspondents. He lived there, when he was fresh out of college and starting out in TV news at NBC affiliate KSNF.

“It is surreal to be here and recognize some of it, while the rest of it is unrecognizable,” Holmes says.

Holmes and his crew drove to his old apartment building and found nothing but rubble.

“They asked me ‘where is it? Which one is it?’ I couldn’t tell them, I couldn’t recognize anything, It was gone,” Holmes tells TVNewser. “And I remember thinking ‘wow, that was my first apartment out of college, and it is gone now.’”

Holmes recalls two stories that stood out from the coverage so far, the first was of a man, Rick Morgan, who was out grocery shopping when the tornado struck.

Like many locals, Morgan had taken to ignoring the tornado sirens, which were often followed by nothing at all:

“I am from the south, I have been around tornadoes my whole life. I ignored the [tornado sirens] myself, I turn on the Weather Channel and I read the weather map on my own,” Holmes said. “This man is the same way, but he broke down in tears on the air a little while ago. [The other shoppers] physically forced him to stay in there. Had he taken off he was sure he would be dead.”

Holmes also told us about a woman who took shelter, and when she returned home, she discovered a 2×4 had been blown into the wall above her bed, right where her head would have been.

For journalists covering the disaster, emotions can be strong.

“You are not trying to be a robot, you report the story as any human being would,” Holmes says. “This is not a story where there is a left or a right or some stance on an issue. Everyone is on the side of the people of Joplin right now.

You help your fellow man, as a human being you want to stop and help them out.”

Holmes hopes that Joplin will remain in the news cycle for a long time, and does not get pushed to the back burner, as the tornadoes in Alabama did by the Royal Wedding and the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

“We have a tendency in general in the media to move on to something else,” Holmes says. “I went out of my way in my newscast to keep [Alabama] in front of mind for those people.

They became victims twice, once by the tornado and again by the news cycle. We always need to look back and remember. We need to keep it at the front of mind.”