University of Kansas professors from the School of Journalism hosted a panel Wednesday night to discuss their memories of covering the events of Sept. 11, 2001 in varying news organizations across the country.
It’s been eighteen years since planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Virginia. Many college students barely remember the day since they were so early in their adolescence. Some weren't born yet.
But for professors and lecturers Steve Wolgast, Mike Casey, Chad Curtis, Rob Karwath and Patricia Gaston, they were responsible for communicating with the rest of the world what was going on at a time when so much of the U.S. needed answers.
After the professors realized they’d all covered the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 from different newsrooms, they decided to plan the forum together, Curtis said.
“[T]he terrorists had struck in our backyard,” said Gaston, who worked at The Washington Post on the national desk. “It was all hands on deck.”
Wolgast worked at The New York Times. He’d been asleep when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers, he said, and woke up to find New York City almost in a different world. Manhattan was covered in dust.
Wolgast showed some of the photos that his colleagues at the Times took in 2001. He remembered one of the photographers walking back into the building, and all the editors and reporters banding together to help get the dust out of her hair.
It was important for the news agencies to discern what was true at the time. So much of the information going around was uncertain, Wolgast said.
Even at the Chicago Tribune, where Karwath was working as the general manager at the time, there were rumors that the Sears Tower was going to be struck by a plane.
“It was absolute chaos,” Karwath said.
Casey was working as the assistant city editor at The Kansas City Star. Then, the challenge was to localize it for readers in the Midwest. The Star put together a 16-page special edition within two hours. The publication had only done another special edition when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Casey said.
“When I finished reading this, I thought, ‘If I was in the story 100 years from now, and I wanted to know how this impacted the Heartland, all you had to do was look at the extra edition,’” Casey said.
Curtis closed off the panel, by sharing what it was like working for NBC. He was in the shower, not due to work for another hour, when his wife called him to deliver the news.
He headed into work early that morning, he said, knowing it was going to be one of the biggest stories he was going to report in his lifetime.
“I couldn’t afford myself the luxury of feeling,” Curtis said.
The news cycle was moving quickly, Curtis said. Staff in newsrooms across the country were trying to figure out what was going on.
“You had to just do,” Curtis said. “We were all a part of that.”
Disclosure: Rob Karwath is the general manager and adviser at the Kansan. He was quoted as part of the panel.