Richard is a digital content editor:
I was preparing for work the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when I heard the first reports of the attacks. And they came through the unlikeliest of sources: The Bob and Tom radio show, which normally focuses on slapstick-style comedy.
Their first-blush reports didn’t characterize the attacks very well. They confirmed an airplane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers, but indicated that it might just be a commuter plane or even a private plane. Such accidents had happened before, so that didn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility. An accident, but likely not a major story, I thought to myself.
Then my wife called me, just as I was getting ready to leave the house.
“Are you coming in soon?” she asked. “This is going to be a big deal.”
Since I started with The Gazette in 1997, I’ve worked primarily with our Web site, and it’s been rare for us to focus significant attention on non-local stories. We’ve tended to play to our strengths – in-depth coverage of local news and sports. But it quickly became clear that this story wasn’t going to be local, or national. It would be THE story of our lifetime, and our Web site was going to be crucial.
Our Web team scrambled quickly to post all the stories and photos we could find, as they came in. Many of the national Web sites were inaccessible due to high traffic, so we were seeing significant traffic to The Gazette’s site. The emotions blended together – excitement, sorrow, fear and loathing. We tried to ignore them all, and just keep working.
But there were those moments – more than one, in fact – when our newsroom came to a halt, just for a few seconds, to take in the history that was transpiring before us. The second WTC tower being hit. The attacks at the Pentagon. The towers collapsing, one after another. The images were overwhelming. We couldn’t help ourselves. There was plenty of work to do, but the scenes were spectacular in their utter tragedy.
The print staff started working furiously to prepare the Extra edition that would hit the streets later that day. I spent the rest of the day updating stories, and photos, and graphics, and whatever else we could find to post. The Web then wasn’t what it’s become today, but 9/11 was one of the first instances where the masses recognized the true value of online content.
Today, the Web is more important than ever. But it’s not been tested again quite like it was on Sept. 11, 2001. And that’s a good thing.