The Tampa Tribune

By Minarcin, Pat W. | Newspaper Research Journal, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

The Tampa Tribune


Minarcin, Pat W., Newspaper Research Journal


Here's what they can't teach you in journalism school about something as numbing as Sept. 11. You're human. And if you're ever called upon to cover a story as wrenching as this one, you'll have a perfectly human reaction to what you're heard and seen. I imagine it happened to journalists all over the country the night of Sept. 11. It certainly happened to us at The Tampa Tribune.

As this is being written, much of that day is a blur. We remember that it began with word of the first crash spreading through the newsroom. Jeez, did you hear? A plane hit the World Trade Center ...? Television sets flickered to life. People bent over computer terminals, reading the latest wire stories.

Then the second plane hit and the newsroom filled with gasps. Oh my God--terrorists, it has to be terrorists, some said. It can't be anything else..... By the time the TV pictures shifted to the oily black smoke billowing skyward from the Pentagon, everyone knew that America was under attack, and the professional detachment with which journalists armor themselves when the news becomes specially grim had kicked in.

There were the hurried meetings, the conference calls, the lengthening lists of chores and assignments--all elements of the process by which we have learned to break a story as massive into manageable and meaningful components. At The Tribune, one team was broken off from the main body of the staff to produce a special edition that was on the street by late morning. Others concentrated on joint efforts with our convergence partners, WFLA-TV and TBO.com, and the next morning's Tribune.

While the core of the story certainly was what had happened in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania, and what was happening in those places still, parts of it were also unfolding in and around Tampa. The president had been a few miles away in Sarasota visiting a school when the attack started. With airlines grounded nationwide, the crowds of stranded passengers quickly grew at Tampa International Airport. MacDill Air Force, where the U.S. military's Central Command and Special Operations Command are headquartered, went to its highest alert level. Phone lines were jammed as people tried to learn the fate of relatives working in New York and Washington. Blood drives were organized, shopping malls closed, worried parents withdrew children from school, and experts began talking about how one of the first causalities of the attacks might be some of our liberties. It was all orderly, rationale, almost machine-like. Emotion lured in the shadows, certainly, but there wasn't time to process them. On the surface things were happening quickly and crisply.

For most of us, the day didn't end until I in the morning. Where would our coverage go when the new work day began? We kicked around some ideas, but the truth is we didn't know, we were all too drained to think clearly. Some of us waited for copies of the newspaper to come spilling from the press. Slowly, all of us went home. And wrapped there in the blanket of night, we lost our professional reserve and became human again.

One Tribune staff member recalls switching on the television and watching the live pictures from New York of the furious rescue effort under the searchlights, and thinking, The newspaper wasn't big enough for this story. …

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