Monday, November 3, 2014

Kennard: World Trade Center opening a significant news event

This column originally appeared in the Daily Herald

By David Kennard

People around the country remember where they were when they first heard about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that leveled the World Trade Center.

It’s been was just a little more than 13 years now, but on Monday One World Trade Center opened for business to become America's tallest building at 104 stories.

Any journalists you talk to will remember that day as one of the longest of their careers. It was one of those surreal stories that just continued to get worse and worse as the hours progressed.

No one enjoyed covering the news that day.

Even the most cynical journalists will tell you they were rocked by the horror of the events of that Tuesday morning. Perhaps that is why, after weeks and weeks of continued coverage, news organizations continued to try and find new ways of reporting the horror.

So many questions about the attack continued to plague reporters around the country, but even months and now years later we are still asking the biggest question: Why did this happen?

Reporters are good at answering the “who, what, when, where and how” questions. It’s the “why” questions that are the hardest to answer in this job.

I can tell you as a journalist watching the horror unfold that day, that question still haunts me.

I had moved from Provo to work for a sister paper in Ohio two years previous and still remember that incredibly long day 13 years ago.

I was working in the newsroom when the first reports of a fire at the World Trade Center began to break. It was an afternoon delivery paper with a 9 a.m. press start, so the presses had just started rolling, when we learned that early reports were that a plane had actually slammed into the North Tower.

We immediately turned on the television, which had pre-empted “The Price is Right” to cover the weird story.

In those first few minutes, terrorism wasn’t even a thought. Pilot error, instrument malfunction, misdirection from traffic control. All those ideas were the first to be floated out there by news organizations.

I remember quickly searching online for some historical context. I found a story about a small plane that had hit the Empire State Building some years prior.

And then the unbelievable happened.

I watched the live footage as a news camera caught a second plane making a wide circle in the background as it targeted the North Tower.

That was one of those “stop the presses” moments.

Everyone on staff paused for moment to again try to understand what they were watching. And then the phones began ringing as readers, reporters and anyone sitting at a computer began compiling information.

The photos, of course led the day. Images from every source started filing in. The arguments about what to lead with became heated. Editors were shouting and the press crew wanted to know when they could have material to begin running again.

We held the presses for three hours so we could get an edition out the same day. Paper carriers were upset because they had to wait, but we were among the first to have news of the event in the same day.

Other papers across the country printed an extra edition, but most dailies had to wait until Wednesday morning to get the news in their regular editions.

Journalist still consider the event one of the most significant breaking news stories of all time.

Today, 13 years later, I consider the opening of One World Trade Center a remarkable end to a story that I’m glad I was around to report on. I hope I never have to report on anything like it again.

Daily Herald executive editor David Kennard can be reached at 801-344-2530 or dkennard@heraldextra.com or on Twitter @davidbkennard.