Remembering a newsroom on 9/11


That is how a bold, banner headline atop the front page of The Repository on Sept. 12, 2001, remembered the previous day, one we now simply refer to as 9/11.

Twenty years ago today, the cover of the newspaper – as were the covers of newspapers throughout the nation – was dominated by solemn words and images of the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings in New York, at the Pentagon in Washington, and near an airport outside Pittsburgh.

But, 24 hours before, the morning had begun in the manner of a normal work day. It didn’t seem like a day that was going to change our world.

“A plane just hit a building in New York City,” I heard by a few minutes before 9 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001.

A fellow editor had stopped at the door to my newsroom office to utter those words. He was keeping me abreast of breaking news, even though my position at the time as lifestyle section editor had little to do on a deadline basis with news unrelated to food, entertainment, fashion, family, travel, or health and wellness.

I remember thinking a small plane, perhaps even a propeller-driven aircraft, had lost its way while flying over the city. I don’t recall actually saying anything, at least nothing professional or profound. Then the editor hastily was gone. And I was back to work. Even at that early hour of the workday, there were articles to edit and stories to schedule in the few minutes before before our morning story budget meeting.

Still, within a short time, I could not ignore the signs indicating the importance of an event that transcended the designated “beats” of the news media.

I actually heard the silence.

A hush fell over newsroom

When I stepped from my office, a work area surrounded by the walls of fabric found in cubicle-filled newsrooms that restrict your vision but fail to restrain much the sound, I saw reporters and editors and page designers standing hushed in front of televisions strategically mounted throughout the workspace. They spoke in low voices if they spoke at all.

Individuals seemed to even walk softly. This was the unfolding of a nearly silent newsroom drama. It played out in an era of newspaper history that no longer carried as background noise the clackety-clack of Associated Press machines which previously came alive to alert newsrooms during moments of crisis.

Both towers of the World Trade Center had been struck by the time we briefly held our  slightly delayed morning meeting. Talk was focused mainly on the attacks that had occurred. We actually learned of the plane crashing into the Pentagon while we spoke. Suddenly, little other news seemed important enough to be discussed.

We emerged from the conference room barely in time to see the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapse. It was, beyond the triteness of the saying, gut-wrenching. We had a very real understanding that we were watching death occur.

And, with the crash in Pennsylvania not long after, the collapse of the North Tower an hour-and-a half later, and the fall of the smaller 7 World Trade Center near the end of the afternoon, the pits of stomachs were not allowed to settle until the next morning.

Beginning to comprehend attacks

“Today our nation saw evil,” were the words, spoken by President George W. Bush, that the Repository printed above its nameplate on the newspaper I picked up from a pile in the newsroom early on Sept. 12, 2001.

“Terrorist attacks recall Pearl Harbor,” said a headline over a story at the bottom of the front page, recalling the event in 1941 that similarly shook the world. A headline atop an accompanying story reminded readers that “anguish for victims” of the 9/11 tragedy reached into local homes, as well.

A photograph was spread across most of Page 1 of the newspaper. The picture showed firefighters raising a flag “amid the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York after a terrorist attack destroyed the twin towers Tuesday,” a caption explained.

The now-iconic image reported on the devastation of the attack, but also assured readers of the strength of the hope for survival that was present amid the destruction.

I always will remember that image.

I pray we never forget.

Reach Gary at

On Twitter: @gbrownREP

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