It was my first day in the new job.
But not in any way I’d have imagined.
Tuesday, Sept. 11 2001, was scheduled to be my first day as deputy news editor. I was the Number Two Person on a copy desk of more than two dozen copy editors at Raleigh, North Carolina’s daily newspaper, The News & Observer.
The promotion had been announced a few days before while I was away at the annual convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. That year, I had been convention co-chair, and I’d returned home from Dallas on Monday, exhausted – but excited to see what came next.
I remember Tom waking me up before 10:00 AM, telling me that he’s seen on CNN that the World Trade Center had been bombed. (OK, so it wasn’t quite right, but he’s not the journalist in the family.) I said, “’You’re kidding,” and he said he wasn’t.
I raced to the shower and said, “Thanks for waking me up. From now on, this is the routine! I’ve got to get in to work.”
I showered, got dressed and raced over to The N&O, about a 10 minute drive from my home. The Features Copy Editors, who worked an earlier shift than the news copy desk, were already looking at the wire service reports. The night Metro Editor and my boss, the news editor, would arrive within minutes.
Among the five of us, we were able to pull together a collection of quick reports and write headlines and photo captions for a special edition that we put out by noon.
It was the first and only time in my life that I worked on a special edition run on the press, at a time other than the normal late-night deadlines.
We took the existing Tuesday paper and stripped out the front national and world news section. We filled it with as much as information as we could get of the initial story and photo coverage from New York, Washington, and the world.
Even as the special edition went to press, the newsroom had geared up for the Wednesday paper, the first of many to accommodate expanded world and national coverage.
Like many regional and metro newspapers, The N&O saw its primary mission as outstanding local and state capital coverage. Typically, national and world news focused on the top stories, a briefs package of secondary stories, and whatever additional reports the limited space in the front section (most pages of which were at least 50% advertising) could fit. Coverage after Sept. 11 changed that equation for at least a year, with wire coverage receiving expanded space, and special sections devoted to a blend of global, national and local coverage.
The rest of that week, adjusting to the new job and the new world at once, was a blur.
I didn’t really remember much else until the following Sunday when I listened to the Rev. Bill McConville, the newest Franciscan friar at my church, St. Francis of Assisi.
He was a lifetime friend of the Rev. Mychal Judge, one of the first whose bodies were found in the Trade Center wreckage.
As Bill gave the sermon – his first Sunday sermon at St. Francis – and received a standing ovation, I finally was able to take in what had happened, and I cried. When the congregation remained at the end of Mass, a thousand strong, to sing four verses of ”America the Beautiful,” I cried again. I left and was pulled over by at least a half-dozen parishioners who knew where I worked.
They thanked me for my efforts, one of the few times I’d heard such praise.
More than two decades later, my memories admittedly carry a detachment and focus on “the story. That may sound callous to anyone who hasn’t worked in a newsroom.
Horror and devastation remain for those who lost loved ones, witnessed destruction firsthand or remember where they were when they first learned of the events of Sept. 11.
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