'Get your stuff together and get your job done'
How The State News covered 9/11
The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, began like any other day for State News reporters: wake up, watch and listen to various news organizations, then head to class.
But the morning news was shocking. Two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and one crashed in a Pennsylvanian field.
“I was still watching the T.V. and then the second plane hit and I remember going, ‘Holy shit, this is a big deal. We’re going to have a busy day at The State News,’” former Web Editor Tony Paul said. “It was amazing how many of the people on staff had just dropped what they were doing to get into the office because they knew it was going to be a crazy busy day.”
Former Opinion Editor Jeremy Steele was the first editor to arrive in the newsroom on Sept. 11.
“I remember I walked in the room, said a couple of choice words – it kind of captured the gravity of what was happening – and then we got to work, trying to get newsroom staff there so we could start reporting on how this event was affecting the university community,” Steele said.
Steele sent an email to all newsroom employees asking for everyone to come to the office as soon as possible to help cover the events that were unfolding, former reporter Ed Ronco said.
Even though Ronco was not an employee in the fall semester, he said he still came into the newsroom to help with coverage.
“We’re journalists and journalists don’t like to be on the sidelines, especially when their colleagues need help or when something really big is happening,” Ronco said. “I didn’t want to just sit still, I mean I wanted to have something to do, some way to react more than just watching television and shaking my head with my friends and this was it.”
Even though the reporters and editors were college students, they still had articles to write and deadlines to meet – the same as any professional newsroom.
“(The newsroom) was extremely professional. It was alarmingly professional,” Ronco said. “You would think ... you walked in and saw a newsroom at work. It was not a bunch of college kids trying to figure it out, it was The State News at its best.”
The newsroom was working until the print deadline updating articles as new information kept coming, former Editor-in-Chief Mary Sell said.
“I still have the front page of the paper framed and hanging in my office today,” Sell said. “I’m really proud of the work that The State News did that day.”
As journalists, part of the job is to push the tragedies around you out of your mind so you can write and get pertinent information out to the public, Steele said.
“In a newsroom, it’s kind of how things happen in a breaking news environment,” Steele said. “To some extent, you turn off the emotions that everybody else would have associated with some sort of major catastrophic event and you focus on the task at hand which is to try and inform the rest of the community as to what’s going on."
“Journalists, we deal with all that other stuff later, usually,” Steele continued. “We deal with the emotions and the feelings and the shock and all that after the news story is posted or after the newspaper comes out.”
But, all the coverage took a toll on the reporters.
“I’ve covered a lot of traumatic events since then but it wears on you after a while, even if you’re not right there at Ground Zero day in and day out,” Sell said. “I probably cried. I actually do remember crying that day. And I tell reporters all the time, it’s fine to cry. Get your stuff together and get your job done.”
Sept. 11 helped cement the idea that journalism was the career a lot of reporters at The State News wanted to pursue.
“I think it just kind of showed the seriousness and the importance of good journalism to me and to all of us,” former Capitol Reporter Steve Eder said. “It really did change, it changed the world that day and it changed the years afterward.”
In addition to confirming that journalism was the career choice people wanted, it also helped some reporters define how a journalist can help the public.
“One of the things I learned on 9/11 was that our role wasn’t just to get the news out,” Ronco said. “It was, in someway to reassure and to comfort – not to say that everything’s going to be okay because we don’t know, just like anybody else doesn’t know – but we definitely had a role in ‘look, here’s exactly what happened, here’s where it happened, here’s who’s affected.’ And by doing that, helping to reassure the public."