Anyone who tells you that they remember that particular Tuesday minute-by-minute is lying. Memories are fragmented, sporadic and come in bursts. Everyone remembers the weather, funnily enough – it was simply gorgeous. At the time I was Managing Editor of Pipe Dream, the student paper at my University and Monday night was production night for the Tuesday edition, (we published twice a week). I drove the paper to printers at 3AM and managed a few hours of sleep but rolling out of bed for English Lit II.
Shortly after the collapse of the North Tower, I headed the paper’s offices to seek solace in the comfy green sofas littered with news editors, staff writers and left over pizza from the night before. There and then we decided to put out a special edition for the next day.
I would have then phoned the printer and set to work purchasing images from Getty, but I have no recollection of either of these tasks.
I set to work planning the issue, blocking the stories and assigning reporters to cover angles of the story across campus. We had very large Muslim and Jewish communities on our campus and University administrators were worried about any clashes. I sent a reporter to go talk to the Muslim Student Union, and then phoned the President’s office to get an official comment about violence reported against Muslims on other University campuses.
Safe and sheltered on a closed college campus, we were painfully aware of what was unfolding thanks to 24-hour news, but also frustratingly far from family and friends who were there and dealing with a very real personal tragedy – we were stuck in a parallel universe of sorts.
The University swiftly cancelled classes and invited students affected to come forward for counselling and help. Several students turned up at the Pipe Dream office seeking community and something to do. A candlelight vigil was organized for that evening.
One of our professors got in touch to ask if we were all okay and we just said, “Yes, Ma’am, we’re putting out a special issue tomorrow and are all over it”. Years later, I realized that’s not what she meant.
In the days that would follow, I think I must have gotten very little sleep. We had the Thursday paper to get out next and we focused on capturing the unfolding political sentiment right here on our doorstep.
I also had to keep our advertisers happy that we would still put out a paper. “Would we run the Thursday issue without advertisements?” Papa Johns wanted to know. Yes, because it felt it was the right thing to do. Instead, we would allow student groups to publicize counselling sessions, student vigils and chartered busses for free. I was making it up as went.
Ten years later, I think all of us on Pipe Dream must have summoned great maturity on that day. It’s still hard to make sense of the absolute flood of conflicting reports in the 24-hours that followed, and understand how a bunch of (essentially) teenagers put a newspaper together, while coping amid all the unanswered questions; were there other targets? Where were the missing planes? Where was the President? Who was behind this? Were we safe?
That weekend, the campus emptied out as students from the City went home in chartered buses. I drove to my parent’s house in Upstate New York. We settled into the rhythm of 24-hour news; MSNBC in the kitchen, CNN in the family room and 1010WINS in the shower.
10 years on I still think very few of us have figured out how to make sense of that day.