What 9/11 Taught Me About Tapping into my Humanity, and Why It’s Important For Journalism

Early in my career, I prided myself in not being affected by the news. My newscast was full of stories-it was my job, rather my duty to communicate that to the masses. It was a responsibility I willingly took on-to be a conduit between the community and what was happening in it. My focus was word choice, showcasing and tight concise writing. Not *feeling* the news.

That sense of detachment changed on September 11, 2001.the-new-york-times-28new-york2c-n.y.29-data

It started as a normal day. I had just been through a spate of breaking news, so I was feeling pretty good about live show producing and how to nose out news. Although I hadn’t been producing incredibly long, we had plenty of breaking news over the weeks prior. I left the newsroom at 7:30am as I would normally on a Tuesday. Tuesdays after work were tough; I had a heavy course load, including an 11am class. So I had to dash out of work after my overnight shift to steal *maybe* an hour and a half of sleep before restarting my day.

I got home just after 8am. During the ride, my car radio was silent…because it didn’t work. I was a struggling college student with a clunky car that allowed me to travel across the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel twice a day and that’s all it did. I got home and fell asleep immediately, forgetting to turn the television on as I normally would before my quick nap. I woke up to my mother calling me, frantically asking if I saw what happened in New York City. I hadn’t, so I turned on the television at the moment, 9:03am to be exact, when the second plane hit the south face of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. I wasn’t sure this was real. But there was no way for it not to be. I immediately dropped the phone, put my shoes on and headed back to work. No need to ask whether I was needed. I needed to be the newsroom. I needed to do something, to know something, to in some way try to find out what was happening.

On the ride back to work, I remember sticking my head out of the window to ask another driver at the red light what he was hearing on the radio. I was radio silent for the entire drive to work. During that drive, another plane was hijacked and yet another crashed at the Pentagon.

CBS Special Report on 9/11

I walked into a frantic newsroom. The scanners were going crazy. The desk phone was ringing off the hook. I slammed into my desk and immediately started picking up phones and finding a way to gather information. We were soon airing the CBS News rolling coverage with Bryant Gumbel. But Norfolk was a military town. OUR sailors and soldiers were soon to scramble on planes and ships to protect a nation under siege. OUR neighbors would be on the front lines of an attack we weren’t sure would end. At some point we went on the air with reports of our local military mobilizing and heading to the attack sites. At some point I took a nap on the floor of the first edit bay to the right of the assignment desk. At some point, I went home, only to stay up all night and watch the coverage. I was afraid to close my eyes. I was afraid of what was next.

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I skipped two weeks of school to accommodate the 12 on /12 off shifts in our newsroom. Although I was a graduating senior, I was a practicing journalist. It was my duty to provide the audience with the latest on this attack on America. I was a Mass Media Arts major; I was going to school to do exactly what I was doing in that newsroom day in and day out. My school was incredibly accommodating to let me use my work on the air as a replacement for the classroom assignments during those two weeks. My schedule settled down some after a while. I resumed classes; our newscasts eventually started incorporating other news. I remember the conversation in the newsroom about *when* we would return to normal. I don’t remember what that story was. I remember sleeping with the television on for MONTHS after the attack. We didn’t know if there would be another. We didn’t know what was next. That fear stayed with me for a long time.

Fast forward to today, I can SEE the World Trade Center out of my window. I actually walked up the stairs….all 140 flights…of 1 World Trade Center in a fundraiser to honor first responders. On my walk to the starting line, I averted my eyes away from the memorial because I wasn’t ready. Although I didn’t yet live here, I saw so much, I knew so much, I covered so much at the time that I wanted to be of the right mindset and really take the time the tribute deserved.

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2015: After  walking up all 104 floors of One World Trade Center

As a journalist, you have to detach yourself from the news to cover it objectively. To an extent. You still have to FEEL. You still have to be a human. You still have to be a person. You still have to use your life experiences to color how you tell stories and why you tell them. 9/11 taught me that. The best storytellers are those who have stories to tell and aren’t afraid to feel them.

 

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