Spotlight Article: A Day of Chaos
As a Director, it was the hardest day of my career so far - trying to hold back your feelings, your emotions, your anger - while being on-the-air with non-stop live coverage of the tragic events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Whether you agree or disagree that six years after the fact, we - the media - still do too much coverage of the anniversary, it's worthy of looking back on that day behind the scenes at WKYC.
At 9 am, the phone rang. A friend called to ask me if I had seen the jet crash into the World Trade Center. "It had to be an accident," I said to myself still half awake - perhaps it was just a small commuter plane and wasn't that big a deal. I was not comprehending what I was hearing. After all, I was on vacation and news was the furthest thing from my mind. Then I get the second call...about a second plane and realized this is something bad.
I jumped out of bed, turned on the TV and couldn't believe what I was watching. It looked like one of those doomsday movies you see at the theater... This was real. Real buildings were burning...real people were panicked...and every station I turned to was on the air with the same horrible pictures.
Then the towers collapsed one by one. My heart sank. I began to cry each time. I was witnessing people dying on my TV.
I called the station to see if they needed me. My boss, Terry Moir, answered the newsroom phone - and I knew that wasn't good. The place was in chaos - by this time, downtown Cleveland was being evacuated and everyone was being sent home. Terry said they were fine.
Moments later, the phone rang again. Terry said I better come in right away.
Driving to the station was serene.. By the time I arrived around noon - downtown was a ghost town...there was an eerie silence about it - no jet traffic overhead, few cars, no trucks - nothing by a dead silence.
I remember walking into our control room and seeing the grief on everyone's faces. Never before had I seen so many people crammed into the control room, answering phones, producers trying to gather information and directors lining up to take turns doing a half hour at time. Ned Tate, Al Wohl, and myself took over the coverage after morning directors Mark Bogden and Tammy Morris finished their time.
The decision was then made by our General Manager Brooke Spectorsky that we would continue to broadcast NBC's coverage on Channel 3 - with our non-stop local coverage broadcast on our partner station, WVPX, Channel 23. And so we did. Anchors Tim White and Romona Robinson were on the air for hours and hours trying to tie it all together with a local angle to a truly national tragedy.
I think the hardest part of that day was sitting in the chair, directing and thinking to myself - how am I able to sit here, focus on my job and not get emotional while there was a job to do? Perhaps we are de-sensitized to violence when we work in the news...we aren't allowed to be human when it matters most. And that has been ingrained in my mind ever since. Now every time I direct something bad, I think back to that day.
Earlier, I posted an article about MSNBC rebroadcasting 3 hours of their coverage today as it aired on September 11, 2001. I said to myself I wouldn't watch, but I did - and the whole day came back to me like it was yesterday.
Perhaps it's not a bad thing we remember this event year after year. We need reminded often that bad people want to kill us and we must protect ourselves and our country from becoming terrorized by these bastards.
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