Our publisher walked into the newsroom, telling us we should monitor the morning TV broadcasts, not that anything was major, but just in case.
A plane had hit the World Trade Center, which while definitely unusual, was nothing we’d normally cover in Georgetown, Ky., where we focused our reporting efforts on news inside Scott County’s borders.
The debate started immediately in the newsroom, as I’m sure it did in news agencies across the planet: what, exactly, had just happened? Some of our staff initially thought a small plane had gone off course and crashed into one of the towers. When TV cameras showed the gaping hole, though, I knew, from having stood next to and atop the WTC in 1987, it had to be a larger object, most likely a commercial jet.
As the arguments flew back and forth, we saw something in the corner of the screen and watched, as millions of others did, in horror as our first question was answered (it was definitely a jet) and hundreds more grew (namely, what in the name of hell was happening?).
We watched, frozen, for a couple of minutes as our minds tried to process what we were watching. As it became increasingly clear our country was under attack, we had to force our thoughts away from being spectators toward being reporters.
Everyone in the newsroom immediately had a new focus (well, almost everyone; I remember having to actually send one reporter away from his desk out into the field to talk to people, a sign he wasn’t going to last too long in Georgetown). Our copy editor quickly put the final touches on what had been our regular edition, while the rest of us fanned out to collect stories for a special four-page wrap designed to cover all the events of Sept. 11, 2001, with a particular eye on Scott County’s reactions.
One immediate concern came to mind: how do we get pictures to go with the reports? Fortunately, the Associated Press made the decision to let all newspapers, including non-members (a group that included our paper) use all images from the attacks. For our main image, we ultimately decided on a wide shot showing the smoke rising across the New York City skyline, with smaller pictures throughout the section showing the destruction, devastation and total chaos of the day.
An inside article featured an interview with Georgetown College professor Bob Snyder, who said the attacks had the fingerprints of an Osama bin Laden assault. While national news would say the same thing later in the day, I took great pride in knowing our small paper was one of the first to have such an article, thanks to the knowledge of Dr. Snyder (a great man who has since passed away).
Like almost every other American, the details of that day, including the emotions, remain firmly planted in my head. Today, as we remember and pay tribute to the day, those who died and those who survived, I’ll also remember how, hundreds of mile away, our little group in Georgetown took part in its own small way.
And, as is my tradition, I’ll spend today listening to Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising. I share with you a song of mourning (in a great clip that features audio from his performance on Saturday Night Live) and one of triumph.