The approaching 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington is sure to recall haunting images for veteran journalists around the country. But for many Wall Street Journal staffers who were based in the paper’s headquarters — across the street from the twin towers — it will bring memories both harrowing and heroic.
“September Twelfth: Ground Zero on 9/11 with The Wall Street Journal,” a book being readied for mid-August publication by former Journal reporter Dean Rotbart, takes the most detailed and dramatic look yet at how reporters and editors rallied, not only somehow to get a paper out the next day, but to produce work worthy of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.
It is a story I know well, having researched a 10-years-later piece for Poynter about the Journal’s coverage on that day. (Also, backstories connected with the New York Times coverage that earned it the 2002 Public Service Pulitzer are part of my 2016 book, “Pulitzer’s Gold.”)
Rotbart’s retelling also hit me personally because of the many Journal friends I have from my own 24-year career at the paper, until 1995, working in bureaus outside New York. And also because I myself ventured down from Boston the next day by car, with my home-delivered copy of the Sept. 12 Journal edition in hand, to be with my wife, who had been visiting her son in Manhattan at the time.
The two chapters excerpted here — “Project 2002” and “If Not Today, When?” — are from the second section of “September Twelfth.” They focus on experiences of several Journal staffers who were central to the paper’s ability to publish such an extraordinary product. ( Rotbart is also working on a biography of one of them: Paul Steiger, the Journal’s managing editor at the time of the 9/11 attacks. Steiger later became ProPublica’s founding editor.)
In an author’s note prepared for “September Twelfth,” Rotbart describes his use of original interviews, as well as government reports, books and articles about 9/11, along with “hundreds of never-published contemporaneous internal emails and memos, as well as personal diaries.” Noting the inconsistencies in many of these accounts, he says: “Rather than offering alternate depictions, I crafted a chronicle that I believe represents the most faithful retelling of what occurred, albeit one that is filtered through the prism of human imperfection.”
He also describes his use of italic lines at the end of certain paragraphs to indicate “what a source was thinking” in a way that “reflects what the individuals told me were the thoughts running through their minds.” He adds: “Where I’ve reprinted emails or portions of emails generated on September 11th, I’ve done so without editing them for clarity, spelling or grammar. Under the extraordinary circumstances they faced, the reporters and editors had no time to worry about refinements.”
Rotbart says that readers interested in pre-registering to purchase a signed copy of the book may use this site. He notes that pre-registration doesn’t obligate one to buy his book, which hasn’t yet been priced.
“Project 2002,” from “September Twelfth” by Dean Rotbart (chapter abridged by Roy Harris)
For Rebecca Distler, September 12, 2001, promised to be an extra special day. Not only was the sixth-grader turning eleven years old, but she had just started at a new school.
Rebecca told her mom, Joanne Lipman, a senior editor at The Wall Street Journal, that she’d like refrigerator magnets for her locker.
Growing up in East Brunswick, New Jersey, Lipman was a serious student of the viola, playing in a string quartet and subsequently studying at the Yale School of Music. In one of Lipman’s earliest front-page stories for the paper, published October 7, 1983, she wrote a humorous first-person account of spending a day as a street musician, playing in Times Square, in front of the New York Stock Exchange, and in the concourse of the World Trade Center.
The story’s denouement was that Lipman earned more fiddling on a per hour basis than she was making as a reporter.
Ten-year-old Rebecca was now the one taking violin lessons.
Before work on the morning of September 11, Lipman was browsing the aisles of the Lechters Housewares store located on the concourse of the World Trade Center. When she spotted a violin-shaped magnet, she knew it would be perfect for Rebecca.
The novelty had a button in the middle that, when pushed, played a little tune. Lipman pressed it idly while waiting to check out.
–I hope this will be a gentle reminder to Rebecca to practice for her violin lessons.
For good measure, Lipman also grabbed a magnet in the shape of a flip mobile phone.
It happened that on her way into Lechters that Tuesday morning, Lipman ran into Joe Dizney, the paper’s design director and one of her best friends.
–Walk with me. Talk with me. I’m going to buy this stuff for my daughter.
Before the day would end, they would both play key roles in producing the next day’s edition of the Journal after its nearby newsroom was destroyed.
Lipman and Dizney had been meeting daily for the better part of the past year in a cloistered conference room at the paper’s headquarters, where they were working on a top-secret restyling of the Journal, the first in 60 years. Each morning, he would stop by Lipman’s office first thing, coffee and muffin in hand, and check in.
Dizney joined Lipman at the cash register. The two planned to walk together through the World Trade Center concourse and over one of the West Street pedestrian bridges to the World Financial Center.
As they waited to pay, they could hear a commotion coming from the corridor. The two witnessed a security guard shooing a crowd of people toward the Church Street exit on the east side of the Trade Center complex.
The Lechters cashier was concerned.
–Everybody’s running. Maybe we should get out of here.
Lipman pushed the two magnets forward. Once again, the anxious cashier looked apprehensively toward the concourse.
–We’ve got to leave.
Lipman was and is an exceptionally congenial individual, but she didn’t rise to the upper echelons of the journalism profession without knowing how to stand her ground. All the more so when the cause was Rebecca’s birthday.
Lipman rolled her eyes at the nervous cashier. After all, she and Dizney hadn’t heard anything. The commuters being steered to the exits looked more annoyed than worried. She figured whatever it was, it was most likely a false alarm.
–Ring this up first. I’m not leaving until I pay.
Lipman handed the cashier a $20 bill to cover the two five-dollar magnets. Adding in the 83 cents in sales tax, the cashier returned $9.17 and a receipt. It was time-stamped 8:55 a.m., nine minutes after American Airlines Flight #11 struck the North Tower, 90-plus floors above Lechters.
The cash register stub was one of the last, if not the very last, receipt to be generated in the World Trade Center complex before the concourse and everything above and in proximity to it was annihilated.
Lipman and Dizney surfaced on Church Street. Always elegant, Lipman, 40 years old, was wearing a skirt suit and high heels.
When she’d entered the World Trade Center complex, it had been a picture-perfect, late-summer morning. Now it was snowing. In Lipman’s 2013 biography of her childhood music teacher, “Strings Attached: One tough teacher and the gift of great expectations,” co-authored with Melanie Kupchynsky, Lipman recounted the apocalyptic scene that she and Dizney encountered.
–At least it looked like snow, as pulverized plaster drifted down from a brilliant blue sky, pinging metallically when the flakes hit the sunglasses perched on top of my head.
Hundreds of papers — blank financial order forms — were wafting through the air. Above us was the unimaginable sight of the World Trade Center on fire, smoke billowing out of an ugly gash in the upper floors. In front of us, cars were pulled up at crazy angles on the sidewalk, abandoned. One was crushed by a giant chunk of concrete. There must have been sirens, and maybe there was shouting, but it was as if it were a dream: every sound was muffled and every action in slow motion.
The scene turned ghastly when Lipman and Dizney — trying to make their way to the office — turned onto Liberty Street, at the south end of the World Trade Center complex. Liberty Street ran east-west from Church Street to the West Side Highway and its pedestrian overpass to the World Financial Center tower housing the Journal’s newsroom.
On a typical day, walking from Church to the bridge took five minutes at best.
This day, however, would take infinitely longer, and the memories of what they witnessed would remain with them for a lifetime.
Everything on Liberty Street was aflame. Rows of burning airline seats were spread out in the middle of the road, along with what looked like a jet engine. Lipman and Dizney moved one block further south to Albany Street, which runs parallel to Liberty Street.
–Human carnage, raw and red, was splattered thickly across the pavement and the sidewalks. We picked our way through an indescribable hell, our heads down, stepping gingerly and trying not to look at the gruesome vista spread out in front of us. When we reached the West Side Highway, across from our building, we swerved to avoid a headless corpse on the sidewalk that someone had inadequately covered with a restaurant napkin. Waiting at a red light, we stood next to a businessman with a head wound streaming blood onto his white shirt collar.
When the second plane, flying just overhead, hit the South Tower at 9:02 a.m., Lipman and Dizney were staggered.
–The crash was like a sonic boom, a deep, deafening, cataclysmic eruption that went on and on, layer after sickening layer of destruction. … Like everyone else there, I assumed I was about to die.
In September 2000, Joanne Lipman was promoted to deputy managing editor, sharing the title with Stephen Adler, Byron E. “Barney” Calame, and Daniel Hertzberg. Her elevation made her the highest-ranking woman on the newsroom’s organization chart and one of the few women in any senior newsroom position at the Journal.
When Paul E. Steiger, the managing editor, was away, it was Calame who was left in charge. Often, even when Steiger was on site but otherwise engaged, Calame ran the entire paper.
Every evening, one of the four deputy managing editors would be responsible for conducting a final review of the next day’s edition before the presses began to roll.
As a teen, Lipman often would join her father, a business executive, on bus commutes from East Brunswick to Manhattan, reading his copy of the Wall Street Journal along the way. She took a liking to the paper, especially the quality writing on Page One, and set her mind to working for the paper someday.
–It was my goal in life.
As a junior at Yale, Lipman interned for the Journal, which proceeded to hire her in New York shortly after her graduation in May 1983. Laurence G. “Larry” O’Donnell was the managing editor at the time. Shortly thereafter, Steiger returned to the paper as an assistant managing editor, working for Norman Pearlstine, who succeeded O’Donnell in September of that year.
Steiger, who also graduated from Yale, had been hired by the Journal in its San Francisco bureau in 1966. He left the business daily two years later to join the Los Angeles Times, where he distinguished himself. Steiger later became a Washington, D.C.-based economics and finance correspondent. He was serving as the Times’s financial editor when Pearlstine wooed him back to the Journal.
Steiger and Lipman, in time, would transform the paper in ways that it’s unlikely either of them could have imagined in their first few years on the Journal’s staff.
Initially, Lipman was assigned to cover the insurance industry and real estate, neither of which was considered a prestige beat. Nonetheless, she impressed Steiger with her ideas and writing skills.
Lipman broke from the pack in 1989 when Pearlstine and Steiger tapped her to create a four-day-a-week advertising column, conceived in large part to draw readers and advertisers away from the rival New York Times.
The column was a hit. She became a Journal star, punctuated by her winning the prestigious John Hancock Financial Services Award for Excellence in Business and Financial Journalism.
Lipman’s fast-track career almost derailed with the birth of her two children: Rebecca in September 1990, and Andrew in October 1992.
–I was having a hard time being away from home. I would have quit if I could have afforded to, or gone part time.
She shared her struggles with Steiger, who wasn’t about to lose one of his most promising editors. He recalled his response, which not only kept her on the staff but led Lipman to much greater achievements at the paper and in her post-Journal endeavors.
–I said, “No, Joanne, you’re not going to quit. You’re going to become an editor, and that will allow you to get control of your schedule.”
Steiger reached out to John Brecher, his Page One editor. It was Brecher who led the team of elite journalists that had oversight of the three daily features that ran on the paper’s front page:
Two comprehensive stories, known in Journal jargon as “leders,” that appeared in the right- and left-hand columns, and the so-called “A-hed,” the quirky fourth-column story that mostly eschewed serious topics. (The “A-hed” is named for the A-shaped hood over the headline, with a crossbar of three stars between the headline’s decks.)
–John, have I got a deal for you. You’re going to get Joanne Lipman. But there are a couple of provisos. She’s going to work from home every Friday unless she has a story going for Monday, and you’re going to be really sensitive to her needs to be doing childcare stuff and various other similar things, because you know she’ll work from 10:00 at night to 3:00 in the morning if she has to [in order] to close the gap.
Brecher was delighted. He was already an admirer of Lipman’s writing. Moreover, he and his wife, Dorothy Gaiter, who also worked for the Journal, had children of their own and could readily relate to Lipman’s struggle to manage both kids and career.
Lipman remained on the Page One staff for five years, editing, and conceiving major news and feature stories. One series of articles that she nurtured, written by Ron Suskind about inner-city honor students in Washington, D.C., won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.
Steiger’s admiration for Lipman continued to grow.
–Joanne became one of the greatest editors we ever had.
The Wall Street Journal was published in a single section from its founding in July 1889 until it added a second section in June 1980. Beginning in 1988, the Journal expanded to three sections, Monday through Friday.
The first section delivered major corporate and economic news, as well as the Editorial and Op-Ed pages. The second section, dubbed Marketplace, encompassed news and features on careers, entrepreneurship, personal technology, law, health, and other matters directly affecting readers’ working lives. The third section, Money & Investing, provided comprehensive content for both personal and professional investors.
The Friday editions of Marketplace featured weekend-oriented coverage, including an expanded personal finance column, a residential real estate page, and articles on sports and travel. The content was designed not merely to help readers navigate the “business of life” but also to attract more consumer-oriented advertisers.
In 1996, the Journal began planning a fourth section to appear on Fridays. The as-yet-unnamed addition ultimately became Weekend Journal. Steiger turned to Lipman to flesh out the concept and oversee the project.
At the time, the paper was heavily reliant on financial advertisers, technology ads, and corporate imaging messages. Although the dot-com bubble was generating plenty of ad lineage from investment banks and newly public companies, wiser heads at Dow Jones recognized the sensibility of broadening the paper’s base of advertisers. Hence, Weekend Journal would focus on readers’ passions, including entertainment, food and wine, cars, style, art, sports, and real estate.
On the day that Weekend Journal debuted, March 20, 1998, Lipman wrote a “Welcome” letter to readers.
–In the 15 years I’ve been with the Journal — as a real-estate reporter, creator of the Advertising column and a Page One editor — I’ve watched the paper evolve along with our readers. The Journal has always been essential reading when it comes to daily business. Now we hope we can become just as essential in helping you manage your personal business.
Besides, I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve heard, “The paper would be perfect, if you just added a sports page and a crossword puzzle.”
Well, now you have both.
The immediate success of Weekend Journal accelerated Lipman’s ascension as a star.
Roughly the same time that Weekend Journal went live, the senior executives at Dow Jones turned their attention to a much more ambitious project, a three-year, $232 million overhaul of the entire paper. The initiative involved the installation of new printing presses and related production facilities, designed to increase the daily page capacity of the Journal from 80 pages to 96 pages and to triple the number of pages containing color — including for the first time, on the front page — from eight to 24.
Dubbed “Project 2002,” the plan was to roll out the “new” Wall Street Journal in April 2002, including the first redesign of the front page since 1941, and the addition of a new section, Personal Journal, to run each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
Appointing Lipman to oversee the design elements of “Project 2002” and to develop the editorial vision for Personal Journal was an easy choice for Steiger and his bosses, following closely on her success with Weekend Journal.
Lipman and Dizney assembled a tiny team to create the prototypes for the enhanced Wall Street Journal and Personal Journal. Sequestering themselves in an 11th-floor conference space away from the main newsroom, only Lipman, Dizney, Steiger, and a couple of others had the special key card needed to unlock the room.
They jokingly referred to their workspace as the “Skunk Works,” a reference to the secret R&D team at Lockheed Aircraft Corp. that during World War II, working from an odorous rented circus tent, rapidly developed a jet fighter for the United States.
So thorough were their efforts to keep their project under wraps that the Lipman team did not network their computers with those of their Journal colleagues, keeping all of their work strictly localized on their computer hard drives.
To gauge reader preferences, Lipman and Dizney hosted three focus groups, the last of which they conducted in San Francisco the weekend before 9/11. On their return to the office on Monday, September 10, Dizney recalled he and Lipman were upbeat.
–We were feeling very proud of ourselves.
The walls of their small conference room were draped in page prototypes.
Reflecting on all the work the pair had put in and the many, many iterations they had developed, Dizney felt a foreboding that he couldn’t explain.
–For some reason, I wanted to back this stuff up, you know, just in case. I burned it to DVDs — everything I had — and took the copies home.
The next morning, as Lipman and Dizney were picking their way through pools of blood and piles of ash, debris, and body parts, it did not immediately dawn on them that much of what they had labored on for more than a year remained locked away in their fortress-like conference space, offline, and now utterly inaccessible.
September 11 would prove a considerable setback to “Project 2002,” but thanks to Dizney’s sixth sense, at least the team wouldn’t have to start again from scratch.
The thought kept running through Lipman’s head.
–I’ve got to get to the office. I’ve got to get to the office.
Lipman’s and Dizney’s recollections of their exact locations when the second plane hit, and what transpired in the immediate aftermath, differ.
According to Lipman’s version, she and Dizney had navigated across the West Side Highway to the southside of 200 Liberty Street, where the building’s parking garage entrance was located. When the second plane crashed into the South Tower, catty-corner to their position, Lipman recalled that instinct kicked in.
–It was just primal. Everybody ran and flattened themselves against a building. It was not a conscious thing.
Dizney remembered it differently, placing the two of them still on the World Trade Center side of the West Side Highway, where they braced against the 39-story Deutsche Bank Building.
Which version is correct is a distinction without a meaningful difference.
What they both agree on is that their subsequent attempt to return to the office proved fruitless because the Journal’s building was already locked down. So the two joined a parade of others — including some of their colleagues — walking west toward the Hudson River promenade and then uptown past both blazing towers.
Joe Dizney and his wife, Jessie Woeltz, resided in a Greenwich Village apartment, located on the fourth floor of a nine-story, early 20th-century building. Located on 6th Avenue near Washington Square Park, their home was roughly two miles from the World Financial Center.
Streams of pedestrians, some covered in soot, also were maneuvering to the Village and points north. Military helicopters circled overhead. Dizney watched as one chopper landed in a park. Soldiers in full camouflage carrying semi-automatic weapons jumped out. A woman on a bicycle pressed aggressively through the crowd against the flow, furiously ringing her bell for those walking to clear a path.
The air was choked with the stench of smoke and concrete dust. People were lined up at payphones by the dozens, hoping to reach their loved ones because most cell phones proved useless. On the streets, strangers huddled around vans and other vehicles, listening to radio news coverage of the terrorist attacks. It’s how Lipman and Dizney first learned that the Pentagon also had been hit.
Lipman and Dizney made it safely to his apartment just as the South Tower fell.
Although telephone landlines continued to operate on September 11, the circuits were overwhelmed. Try as she might, Lipman was unable to reach her husband, Thomas Distler, an entertainment attorney, to let him know she was safe and uninjured.
–He was convinced for that first hour-and-a-half or two hours that I was dead. He was sure because he saw what was going on and he couldn’t reach me.
Somehow, Lipman managed to get a call through to her parents in New Jersey, and she implored them to contact her husband and alleviate his fright.
At Dizney and Woeltz’s apartment, Lipman was first able to monitor the rapid-fire exchange of emails that was taking place between the various dispersed Journal editors and reporters, many of whom were filing personal accounts of their travails as well as raw reports of interviews they had conducted with eyewitnesses and survivors. Since none of those afield knew who precisely to address their emails to, much of the correspondence was copied to anyone and everyone they could think of.
No one knew Paul Steiger’s whereabouts, or if he had survived.
Lipman wanted to get home, and she wanted to join her fellow deputy managing editors who were assembling at the Upper West Side apartment of Barney Calame, not far from her apartment on 87th and Broadway.
Fortunately for Lipman, she and Jessie Woeltz had similar shoe sizes. So Lipman borrowed a pair of sneakers and began the several-hour walk on her own from Greenwich Village to her apartment. Lipman saved her debris-coated high heels as a remembrance, although she never wore them after September 11.
She also made sure that she wouldn’t be caught flat-footed going forward.
–After 9/11, everybody I knew went out and bought a pair of “fleeing sneakers” to keep in the office in case we ever had to flee again.
“If Not Today, When?” from “September Twelfth” by Dean Rotbart (chapter abridged by Roy Harris)
For the record, Barney Calame maintains that he did not cry when his close friend and boss, Paul Steiger, finally contacted him by phone early in the afternoon of September 11. He does acknowledge that he was emotional.
–I was really broken up. I was really worried. I was afraid he was dead because the last report had him outside the [Journal’s offices] directing traffic. And now it was 1:30 or 2:00. And so the truth was, I was afraid he was dead.
Calame and Steiger traced their friendship back to 1967 when Calame worked in the Los Angeles bureau of the Journal and Steiger, three years younger, was a 25-year-old cub reporter in the paper’s San Francisco office. The two periodically collaborated on stories when Steiger was loaned to Los Angeles as a temporary fill-in. Both men, who were the most junior members in the bureau, hit it off, as did their wives socially.
Over the course of their careers, the two had traveled different paths to the Journal in New York and, as it were, to Calame’s apartment on September 11.
Two years after joining the Journal, Steiger left the paper for the Los Angeles Times. He spent a total of 15 years with the Southern California daily, including seven covering economics in Washington, D.C.
Calame transferred from L.A. to Washington to cover labor, where he, Steiger, and their wives again saw each other socially. From Washington, Calame did a stint in Pittsburgh as the Journal’s bureau chief, and eventually returned to L.A. to run the bureau there.
When Steiger completed his time in D.C., he also returned to L.A., to become the Times’ business editor. Once again, the move put him in a head-to-head rivalry with Calame.
Whether working for the same newspaper or competing dailies, the two men remained good friends.
When Steiger was promoted to managing editor in 1991, he asked Calame to be his deputy managing editor, the position Calame still held on September 11, 2001.
Calame and his wife, Kathryn, a professor of Microbiology and of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University’s medical school, lived in a so-called “Classic Seven” apartment on the Upper West Side.
Their pre-war unit consisted of a living room, a formal dining room connected to the kitchen through a glass-paned door, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a maid’s room and bath just off the kitchen that he used as a home office.
As the attacks on the World Trade Center evolved, Calame’s goal was to find Steiger and drive a group of editors over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey to make their way south to the Journal’s South Brunswick administrative offices. He knew that South Brunswick had been designated by Steiger as the emergency fallback facility when the Twin Towers were hit. And emails Calame monitored from his colleagues made it clear that Steiger — before he went missing — was encouraging everyone who could get to South Brunswick to do so.
A couple of other Journal staffers who lived nearby met up at Calame’s apartment and planned to catch a ride with him.
At 11:45 a.m., Calame emailed the paper’s senior staff, subject line “Getting Organized.”
–I’m at home in Manhattan and haven’t had contact with Steiger, Pensiero, or Hertzberg. Bill Godfrey says Pensiero is enroute to SB. Here’s what I do know:
We are setting up a newsroom in S.B. Building Three. If you can get there safely, please go.
Editors in Manhattan who can’t get to SB because of closed bridges and tunnels should plan to work remotely until transportation works …
Please don’t send any reporters into the area south of Canal until we know it’s safe to report there.
More info as soon as possible.
The Calame apartment was reasonably well-suited to serve as a satellite “office,” given the limits of remote technology at the time. His unit was spacious. His shiny mahogany dining room table was easily converted to a workstation capable of accommodating his colleagues and their work sprawl. He had a laptop and a desktop computer, an inkjet printer, two phone lines, a functioning Blackberry for sending and receiving text messages, and a decent internet connection.
The early arrivals at his apartment included his fellow deputy managing editors, Steve Adler and Dan Hertzberg, and the Page One editor, Michael Miller. They’d be joined a bit later by Joanne Lipman, who first stopped at home to hug her husband and children, whom Distler had picked up from school.
The four men were in frequent contact with Jim Pensiero and the other senior staffers who were setting up the makeshift newsroom in South Brunswick; Marcus Brauchli, the national news editor, who was coordinating coverage from his home in Brooklyn; and Alan Murray, the D.C. chief whose team was responsible for the much of the front-page content and major inside stories.
When the phone rang, just past 2 p.m., it seemed as if everyone froze.
We thought you were lost. I thought you might be dead.
Well, I’m not lost.
At least that’s how Steiger recollected the beginning of his phone conversation with Calame. Then, according to Steiger’s version, which he later recounted to the New York Times and others, Calame broke into sobs.
Steiger very well might have been crushed by the World Trade Center fallout or taken seriously ill from the lungs-full of nasty smoke that he inhaled. He escaped the conflagration covered from head to toe in soot. Sound in body, he had witnessed death and carnage that he still wishes he could unsee but never will.
Unbowed, Steiger made it to his Upper East Side apartment that day and was now checking in, ready to resume command of his widely dispersed crew of reporters, editors, designers, and production staff.
The George Washington Bridge had closed to traffic. With the surface streets in upper Manhattan gridlocked with vehicles trying unsuccessfully to escape the city, Steiger vetoed any attempt he and his fellow editors might have made to drive to South Brunswick. Instead, they would work from Calame’s apartment.
After a shower and a change of clothing, Steiger hailed a cab and arrived at Calame’s apartment. Originally, Calame planned to drive to the East Side to retrieve Steiger.
–But I crashed our car in the gridlock on Central Park West, parked it, and walked back to our apartment for the rest of the evening.
The senior newsroom management of The Wall Street Journal, each of whose names appeared daily on the paper’s masthead (except for Michael Miller), was now laboring on the most critical news day of their careers not from their well-appointed 9th-floor, state-of-the-art offices in Lower Manhattan, but from a dining room, featuring floral wallpaper, an antique rug, potted plants, and a wall shelf displaying some of Kathryn Calame’s antique plates and glassware.
Those who could fit, at times, squeezed into the maid’s quarters — teeming with shelved file folders and back editions of the Journal — to read Calame’s desktop computer screen over his shoulders or sit at the keyboard to correspond with their remote colleagues.
In truth, there was only so much the six editors could accomplish. Had it been a regular weekday, at best, they would have been only peripherally involved in putting out the September 12 edition, leaving most decisions and tasks to the hands-on teams that functioned perfectly well without their direct involvement.
By the time the Calame apartment brain trust convened and was fully engaged, roughly 2:30 p.m., many of the most important decisions had already been made by the triumvirate of Jim Pensiero, Marcus Brauchli, and Alan Murray, and their assignments were well along the way to being completed.
Everyone in the Journal universe was greatly relieved that Steiger had risen from the presumed dead. His reappearance was a rare piece of good news on an otherwise dismal, emotional day.
Steiger, Calame, Lipman, Adler, Hertzberg, and Miller fielded whatever questions came their way and reached out to various editors and others to offer their help. Calame’s son, Jon, made a pizza run, keeping the six well-fueled.
Steiger was in particularly close contact with the South Brunswick contingent because the team there had the responsibility for editing, laying out, and getting the content to the printer.
The decision was made that the next day’s paper would be printed in only two sections, running a combined total of 34 pages. The second section, Money & Investing, would feature a black-and-white AP photo of the two stricken towers. Running photos in the Journal was a rare occurrence in those days.
One reason the September 12 edition was so thin was that Steiger’s counterparts in the paper’s advertising sales department pulled many of the scheduled placements, feeling it would be distasteful to include them. Most of the ads that did run were house ads for the Journal or its Dow Jones siblings, including Barron’s and The Wall Street Journal Online.
The decision to use a six-column front-page headline was Steiger’s. He had been stubbornly pushing for it from the moment that morning when it became apparent that the planes that hit the World Trade Center were deliberate terrorist actions, not some fluke airline disaster.
There was one big problem, however. The tightly designed front-page template for the Journal had no elasticity to accommodate Steiger’s desired two-line, all-caps headline running from left-to-right across the entire top of the first page.
Indeed, multiple editors in South Brunswick pleaded with Steiger to drop the headline idea. They were short-staffed as it was, and no one there felt comfortable trying to redesign the classic Wall Street Journal front page on the fly.
Steiger was unmoved.
–If we’re not going to put a banner headline on the paper today, when are we going to do it?
Enter Joe Dizney. He had stayed behind in his Greenwich Village apartment when Joanne Lipman pushed on.
Years later, he would be formally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder dating back to that morning. At the moment, he was glued, almost hypnotically, to his sofa, staring at the endless loop of television coverage of the two towers’ collapse.
It eventually dawned on Dizney that his building had an unobstructed view of the Trade Towers site from its rooftop, so he made his way up and absorbed the grim scene.
–Downtown is just such a mess. I have to do something.
Trying to reconstruct his actions almost two decades later, Dizney was unsure whether the idea of walking to the paper’s midtown advertising offices to lend a hand was entirely his, or whether someone, perhaps Jim Pensiero in South Brunswick, had requested that he go.
The advertising office, a four-minute walk from Times Square, was at 1155 Avenue of the Americas, near the corner of 44th Street. It was located on the fifth floor of the 41-story, granite-clad high-rise above the distinctive, hexagonal street entrance to PINK, the upscale shirtmaker and retailer.
Dizney was familiar with the office and some of the Journal ad executives who worked there. He first began with the paper as a freelancer and helped design some of its special Monday sections from the facility.
While the editors in South Brunswick had been resistant, when Steiger put the request to Dizney to prepare an instant template to accommodate a six-column headline, the veteran design director was sanguine.
–Sure. No problem.
Dizney was fluent in the Journal’s typography. He served as the lead designer of the paper’s Weekend Journal and was, as noted, deeply immersed in the “Project 2002” makeover of the entire paper and the planned introduction of the Personal Journal section.
Among the challenges he faced when rejiggering the front page to make room for a two-line, six-column headline was lowering the tops of the actual columns and discarding the uninterrupted top-to-bottom “silos” that normally confined each column.
The September 12 front page broke the mold. It contained six separate stories, two beginning below the fold; the two-column What’s News menu; a special two-column box at the bottom of What’s News indexing the 9/11-related stories that appeared inside the paper; and a small box at the bottom of the fourth column, letting subscribers know that delivery of their papers might be delayed, but the entire September 12 edition would be available for free at WSJ.com. The front page also ran a two-column infographic illustrating where the hijacked planes originated and where they crashed.
Dizney commandeered a standard Apple Macintosh computer from the ad sales office. He booted up QuarkXPress, a desktop publishing application used by amateurs and professionals alike, and rapidly created a couple of iterations for Steiger and the cohort at Calame’s apartment to review. Steiger was pleased.
–I looked at it, and it was great.
Dizney, perhaps overly modestly, says the instant redesign was a snap.
His new template served as a roadmap for the editors and layout personnel in South Brunswick. Once he faxed them the design and included specs such as the correct point size and spacing, it was a breeze to use.
The only remaining challenge was deciding what the six-column headline should say and ensuring that the phrasing fit the allotted space. That duty fell to the sextet of editors gathered at Calame’s apartment.
The five men and Lipman realized they were crafting the heading not only for the next day’s edition but also for posterity.
Just shy of 60 years earlier, Barney Kilgore and William H. Grimes, then the Journal’s two top editors, had wrestled with a similar decision: What to declare in the Journal’s front-page, six-column headline on the day after Pearl Harbor.
Kilgore and Grimes used a three-line, all-caps banner, with a heavy focus on the business and financial ramifications:
U.S. INDUSTRY’S SOLE OBJECTIVE: ARMS PRODUCTION SPEEDUP;
CONGRESS PREPARES TO ACT; TAX BILL WILL BE RUSHED;
N.Y. STOCK EXCHANGE TO OPEN AS USUAL TODAY, SAYS SCHRAM
Steiger, who has always struggled to accept credit for most of his accomplishments without sharing it with one or more colleagues, attributes the September 12 headline to all six editors. They settled on a hard-news approach, foregoing any allusion to the probable business and financial consequences.
–I participated in writing the headline. But nearly everybody in that room and maybe somebody in South Brunswick had a hand in that headline. I think we each wrote one word.
Maybe. Maybe not.
News accounts about the Journal’s heroics from 2001 and 2002, when memories were fresher, credit Steiger alone as the final arbiter of the headline’s wording.
Three days after the 9/11 attacks, the New York Times published a story by Felicity Barringer, its media reporter, describing the role that Steiger and the others at Calame’s apartment played in producing the Journal’s September 12 edition.
–And it was there that they wrote and rewrote the headline, finally agreeing on “TERRORISTS DESTROY WORLD TRADE CENTER; HIT PENTAGON IN RAID WITH HIJACKED JETS”— Mr. Steiger’s version.
Steiger himself, as quoted in the 2002 book “Running Toward Danger,” a collection of stories about 9/11 news coverage, bared his role.
–I said I wanted a six-column headline on Page One, which we very rarely do. We wrote the head. I don’t remember what it said. They humored me and said they liked mine the best, so that’s the one we went with.
Putting the day in perspective was complicated for the senior editors gathered at Calame’s apartment. Given what they had personally witnessed and experienced, it was especially difficult for Steiger and Lipman.
On the one hand, September 11 was undoubtedly the most emotionally wrenching day of their professional careers and perhaps of their lives.
But it was also one of the most rewarding. They had done what great journalists are meant to do. They set aside personal considerations and overcame enormous obstacles to pull together a quality newspaper that shouldn’t have been possible under the circumstances.
Thanks to adrenaline, and in Steiger’s case, plenty of Diet Coke, they found the clarity and energy to complete their tasks.
It was after 11 p.m., and the presses at the paper’s 17 print plants were rolling when Lipman bid her colleagues adieu and made her way home.
Before retiring, she wrapped all the gifts she had purchased for Rebecca’s 11th birthday, including the two magnets she bought at Lechters. And then, exhausted though she was, she baked her daughter a birthday cake.
This article was originally published July 8, 2021.