On the morning of September 11, 2001, Bill Mitchell, the editor of Poynter.org, asked me to compile an online resource page about the terrorist attacks.
Now, thirteen years later, we look back at a few excerpts from Poynter’s original 9/11 stories.
Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark wrote this:
“Doesn’t my brother Ted work near there?
That was the first question I asked myself after witnessing, live on
the air, the second plane crash into what was once the World Trade
Center. I later heard Dan Rather report that 50,000 people work in
those towers, the population of a small city.
But, no, Ted doesn’t work there any more. A moment of relief. Then the
phone calls began. First my wife from the hospital where she works,
‘Are you watching this?’ Then from my daughter Emily from her cell
phone driving to work, ‘What’s going on?’ Then my daughter Alison from
work in Atlanta, her voice shaking. And then finally from my mother on
Long Island, ‘Theresa works on the 57th Floor.’
…And though the elements of news are wide and catastrophic: the Twin
Towers, destroyed; four planes hijacked and used in suicide crashes;
the suspicion of large-scale international terrorism; the Pentagon
attacked; the houses of our government, abandoned; financial markets
closed; air travel everywhere suspended — in spite of those
earthshaking developments, let’s try, as journalists to keep in mind
the thousands of personal stories that will emerge in the days,
months, and years ahead.
When I got to my office, a note was taped to my computer. It was from
my mother: ‘Theresa is safe. She walked to her father’s apartment.’ I
called my daughter in Atlanta, who was so distraught she had left work
for home. ‘Thank God, thank God,’ she cried. There will be many more
cries of joy and pain in the days ahead.”
— “This is Personal. Over Time, Let’s Help People Tell Their Stories.”
By Roy Peter Clark, Poynter, September 11, 2001
From Poynter’s Jill Geisler:
“Tuesday’s events had the power of an earthquake.
Newsroom leaders, prepare for the aftershocks.
As powerful and disturbing as the ‘big picture’ stories have been, it
is the smaller stories that will take their toll on those who consume
news — and those who produce it.
Famous names will be in the news, affected by or connected to the
story. Not-famous-at-all people will be in their company, and their
stories must not be overshadowed.
….Newsroom leaders would be wise to assume that their employees are in
pain. That the adrenalin of first-day coverage and the energy of
follow-up enterprise give way to exhaustion and depression. Assume
they need your close attention. Feed them well; physically,
emotionally and intellectually.
Know each person well enough to know when to give them rest, when to
give them a change of assignment, and when work is exactly what they
need to feel they are doing something of value. Listen to the ones who
need to talk about what they’ve seen and how they feel. Be alert to
those who seem to keep things bottled up. Find ways to reach them.
Make professional counseling available for those who need it, some
sooner, some later.
Journalists often do their very best work under pressure. But for some
in the field, this story turns the pressure up to its highest levels.
Journalism’s leaders can make a difference in times like this. They
must. Citizens are counting on news organizations to tell and to
uncover the many painful truths of this unprecedented story.”
— “The Days Ahead: Advice for Newsroom Leaders,” By Jill Geisler, Poynter, September 11, 2001
On 9/11 Jill also wrote the article, “Minute by Minute with the Broadcast News.”
From Poynter’s Al Tompkins:
“Now is a time for newsroom managers to recognize there will be a long
term commitment to covering this story. In all probability it will be
days of non-stop non-commercial coverage. Begin right away having
those business discussions.
Prepare, too, to make some tough decisions about coverage. Univision
aired the most graphic video I have seen so far, a person falling from
a high floor of the World Trade Center. The sickening video was shown
in slow motion. We didn’t see the body hit the ground because the view
was blocked by another building.
No doubt, these pictures will become more and more available as field
crews feed miles of tape back to newsrooms and newsrooms fill hour
upon hour of live coverage. The body recovery will take weeks.
I would get in touch with my local search and rescue squads — the
situation in NYC and DC will require the help of the nation. According
to the NYC Office of the Mayor, FEMA has already contacted some
outside agencies to come and help with the search.
In the next hours, we will begin to see the faces, the bodies, the
pain that will personify this day….”
— “Tough Decisions Ahead on Coverage” By Al Tompkins, Poynter, September 11, 2001
From Poynter’s Kenny Irby:
“David Handschuh was anxiously awaiting the cable guy.
No, he didn’t win money, nor a free cable subscription. He just, in
his words, ‘won the power ball of life.’
He survived the second terrorist explosion at the World Trade Center.
Now he needs cable, his lifeline to the world.
For over 15 years, Handschuh has cruised the streets of New York like
a modern-day Weegee. Like the late Arthur Fellig, better known as
Weegee, Handschuh has a knack for being quick to the scene of the
dramatic event. This time it nearly cost his life.
Handschuh was outside the first tower, shooting for The New York Daily
News, when terrorists slammed a second airliner into the other Trade
Center tower. He captured the explosion. Seconds later the debris
nailed him, striking with such force it broke his leg, dislocated his
knee and caused other injuries….”
— “So Glad to be Alive,” By Kenny Irby, Poynter, September 15, 2001
Kenny described the morning of 9/11 in the story, “In Times Like These.”
And from Poynter’s Howard Finberg:
“The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 provoked some extraordinary moments
in publishing. A great deal of human effort went into gathering,
editing, and presenting news of this disaster.
….Some examples from the front lines:
— St. Petersburg Times reporter Bill Duryea, born and raised in New
York City, was sent to cover the attacks on the World Trade Center. To
get there from an assignment in Dallas, he and photographer Carrie
Pratt hopped a cab to Greenville, S.C., then rented a car and drove
the rest of the way to New York.
— Jennifer Lin, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who walked four
miles along the Hudson River, bought a ride on a speedboat and then
rode and hiked the rest of the way to Ground Zero.
— New York Post photographer Don Halasy was caught in a hailstorm of
debris from the collapse of one of the World Trade Center towers.
Moments before, he had given one of his last two rolls of film to
— Carol Marin, a CBS News correspondent, was pushed out of harm’s way
by a firefighter as she raced to cover the story.
— Reporters and photographers from The Hartford Courant drove into
New York City as far as they could and then started walking to the
disaster scene. Some walked more than 139 blocks.
….The stress of making sure coverage is complete and thorough is
present even during normal times. During times of crisis, the process
of getting the news out demands unparalleled performance. Mindful of
the historic significance, editors were urging staffers to ‘write for
— “Stories Behind the Stories,” by Howard Finberg, Poynter, September 25, 2001