What it was like to be in the newsroom when September 11 hit

“Turn on the TV,” said Francine as she called me at 6am.
“Why?”
“Just do it.” I turned it on. To see planes flying into the Twin Towers. To see buildings on fire. People jumping from windows. The awful ash and smoke covering New York. The horrified faces of people running from the scene. Then the dreadful spectacle of one of the buildings collapsing, dooming thousands inside and hundreds of brave emergency workers who had rushed in to save them. Followed later by another collapse.
I felt stunned to my core. This was something. This was different. Pure horror. An interruption of normality. Reality sent off its axis. This wasn’t supposed to happen in the West. This wasn’t supposed to happen to the most powerful country on earth. And it was happening before our eyes. This was a defining moment of my generation, a point of before and after: “Where were you when the Twin Towers fell?” Watching it on TV, mouth agape, like everyone else.
I knew the world would never be the same again. I could only imagine how the Americans would react. There would be war. There had to be. Someone was going to get bombed. You didn’t take such a savage swing at a superpower and expect to get away with it. Who did this? Who had the answers?
I showered and got ready for work in a daze. As I caught a taxi in all the radio stations were talking about it. Even the programs devoted to youthful nonsense suspended their satire to wonder about what had happened. Its stunning import, I imagined, was like the day JFK got shot. The vision of planes in the sky filled me with horror. I felt a strange sense of doom going to work in a tower that day. I felt vulnerable.
Some of my colleagues were similarly stunned. It was all anyone could talk about. Conversations became one-word expressions of horror. “Shit.” ‘Fuck.” It was hard to put the events into complete sentences. All we could do would express our vast shock.
Yet amid the tragedy the Clarion came together in the most noble of ways. Staff came in early or skipped holidays to come into the office. They knew that an event of the most devastating import had occurred. The public would rely on them to explain the event. Document it. Record it for posterity. Help make sense of the horror. It was their task to collect the facts, the information, and then present it as soon as possible to their stunned readers. And the world.
And so they did.
Sombrely, with dedication and respect, the Clarion’s news desks worked tirelessly to fill the paper with stories about the event, to do their duty as newspeople. This was serious news which demanded serious, sustained attention. The various arms of the paper worked together like a beautiful machine, people dedicated to one cause. Information and imagery came in from around the world, to be dissected, examined and edited. Then our reporters would put their own interpretation on the facts for local consumption.
The horrible imagery meant that there was a surfeit of stunning, awful shots for page 1 and elsewhere. Yet such images would have to be chosen with respect. They would have to portray the grim facts – to tell the story – without falling into the trap of being sensationalist. To inform and impart without seeking to inflame. And so the wise elders of the Clarion selected the pictures with great care.
Information continued to filter in throughout the day, as the world sought to digest and react to the news. At some point it was revealed that Australians could be among the victims. The crime scene was rubble, so details were sketchy. No one was counting bodies yet. But few doubted that the death toll would be among the thousands.
Leaders came forward to reassure the people. That the government would care and protect them. That those who had committed these crimes would be punished. Partisan politics was temporarily cast aside. The leaders’ thoughts and prayers were recorded in the paper as Clarion staff worked late into the night to create editions of outstanding quality. They rose to the challenge.
Next day’s paper was one of the most outstanding the Clarion ever produced. The tone was near-perfect. The balance of text and imagery was superb. It was informative without being sensationalist. It was as if everyone instinctively knew what they had to do and did it without hesitation.
Amid the shock, I felt immensely proud to be part of the Clarion family that day.

From my unpublished novel, Zombies Ate My Newspaper.

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