9/11 first major event in journalism career

Andrea Joseph

It’s one of those events that seems to beg the question: Where were you? And, undoubtedly, just about everyone can answer it without thinking twice.
It’s one of those events that seems to beg the question: Where were you? And, undoubtedly, just about everyone can answer it without thinking twice.
I know I can.
I was lying in bed staring at the clock – set to west coast time – on my bedside table. It was one of those mornings when I woke up before the alarm, and I lay there thinking, “If I close my eyes and fall asleep right now, I can get in another 20 minutes.”
Ten years ago I had a home phone with an answering machine and when my phone rang ahead of my alarm that morning, instead of prying myself out of bed, I let the machine pick up the call.
It was my boss, the editor of the newspaper I was working for at the time. It was a brief, slightly panicked message that requested I get into the office immediately and ended with: “It may be the start of World War III.”
I jumped out of bed, and as I turned on the television and tried to return his call – only to be answered by a busy signal – I saw the World Trade Center towers, smoke billowing into a cloudless Manhattan sky.
As much as I wanted to sit on the couch and listen to what was happening at that very moment, I had a job to do. I quickly dressed, tore myself from the images on screen and sped to the office just a few blocks from my home.
Much of the remainder of the day was a blur as we did our best to disseminate information to the public via the website, deciding which photos coming across the wire were appropriate to use – some were not – and putting together a newspaper to be delivered later that day. The newsroom television was blaring, as employees from other departments gathered to watch as we worked.
“Something has exploded at the Pentagon.”
“The second tower has fallen.”
“Another plane has crashed in Pennsylvania.”
“We don’t know how many people have died today.”
As the chaotic morning turned to afternoon, and afternoon into night, the building emptied of everyone but those of us in the newsroom. Reporters worked diligently to get local information, local reactions, local concerns. Editors finished pages, typed updates, checked facts. Photographers were out and about, snapping pictures of American flags already being flown and of people gathering in groups to share their shock and grief.
When my boss finally gave me the OK to head home late that evening, the adrenaline slowly ceased and the emotion began to creep in. As I sat on my couch that night, watching a recap of the days events, the magnitude of Sept. 11, 2001 sank in.
And I wept.
I’ve always been a sensitive person – when I was younger, I sometimes questioned my choice of career because I don’t have a reporter’s aggression or an editor’s hardness. But that Tuesday night, I shed tears with the rest of the country and fit right in.
Each day I returned to work, I’d spend 12 to 14 hours at the office pumping out pages of coverage, special editions and web stories. Then I’d come home and let the tears fall while watching live news, listening to personal stories and simply wondering what was happening to the world. When I could sleep, I’d doze off to the television and wake up to continuing coverage – then head into work where I was part of it.
That’s the thing about working in the news industry: you can never turn it off.
But I don’t think anyone – even those outside of the industry – wanted to turn it off in the days and weeks following those terrorist attacks. We needed to feel connected to each other, to those who were murdered, to those climbing in and searching through the rubble.
Sunday marks 10 years since 9/11. Although I was completely immersed in coverage of the event and sometimes felt overwhelmed by it, I know I’ll turn on the television this weekend. I doubt I’ll see any images I haven’t seen before, doubt I’ll hear any commentary I haven’t heard.
But I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget that morning phone call. I don’t want to forget seeing fences lined with posters of the faces we lost. I don’t want to forget that feeling of solidarity we once had.
A decade has passed. Everyday life continues. But let us never forget.
So … where were you?