The news of Sept. 11 was delivered first to The Journal Gazette newsroom by clerk/receptionist Christi Campbell. She had caught a radio bulletin on her drive to work. It was a couple of minutes past 9 a.m. An airplane had hit the World Trade Center in New York City.
“I came in and turned on the TV in the library and one in the newsroom. Ron Shawgo and I saw the second plane hit the building,” she said.
Shawgo, The Journal Gazette's special projects editor, was at his desk, as was columnist Frank Gray. “I said something like 'Frank, you should see this,' ” Shawgo recalled, reconstructing the first minutes of a story that changed America and set in motion an unparalleled blur of news.
Gray responded by heading to Fort Wayne International Airport, not so much because there was a specific story there but because journalists felt the need to be someplace outside of the newsroom, someplace where they could begin to report on a story larger than any had ever seen before.
Chief photographer Dean Musser was dispatched to the airport with Gray, then on to photograph a previously scheduled and now-more-newsworthy International Day of Peace gathering in North Manchester.
Ben Smith went to record how ordinary people in northeastern Indiana coped with an extraordinary day. “The daily grind ground to a halt Tuesday,” he wrote later.
Reporter Sara Eaton went to the Air National Guard headquarters at the airport. Reporter Olivia Clarke to the American Red Cross, where people lined up to give their blood, one pint at a time.
And on through the Metro desk reporting ranks: The police dimension, the spontaneous call to prayer and the short-lived panic to buy gasoline.
Online readers of The Journal Gazette were given the first of a stream of new information beginning before noon at journalgazette.net.
In The Journal Gazette newsroom, small gatherings of editors grew into planning meetings. Night editors began arriving at midday.
Questions were asked and answered:
Yes, there would be much additional space in Wednesday's editions. Twelve pages dedicated to this story.
Yes, the press run would be increased by thousands: 14,000.
Yes, there would be only one story on the front page of The Journal Gazette.
Should the headline report “war”? No. Not yet. “Evil” was the better word. “Acts of evil.”
Should the front-page photograph show the ghastly explosion? No. It should reflect horrified humanity.
No staffer, no department was unaffected. The sports world shut down. Baseball pennant chases would resume later, maybe in a week or so. The business and financial world was chaotic. Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange closed. TV? Schedules were scuttled. Each section of The Journal Gazette had reason to respond.
All of this would test the substance and structure of the newly created universal copy and design desks put into place at The Journal Gazette eight weeks earlier. Both prevailed, with Keith Elchert, AME/News, and Presentation Editor Michael Morris collaborating on content and packaging.
Editors worked with other FWN divisions.
Production responded to provide a two-page spread to publish the panoramic picture of smoke billowing from Manhattan. Imaging and the pressroom responded to provide exacting care for the quality of horrendously dramatic photographs.
Circulation put the machinery in motion to assure that sufficient copies would be available to vendors and in stores for news-starved readers.
And at 12:10 a.m. on Wednesday – five minutes early – the last page was released, the final page of an extraordinary account of an extraordinary day.
Around the newsroom, remnants of tepid pizzas were gobbled by those who hadn't had time when the pizza was fresh seven hours earlier.
Metro reporters and editors talked of what might be ahead on Wednesday. Wire and copy desk folks found new details and analysis in an avalanche of copy from the Associated Press, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and other supplemental sources. Designers spoke of maintaining and modifying a hurriedly created typographic style for pages that would deliver reports on the aftermath in coming days. For how long? Who knows?
Ed Breen is the retired assistant managing editor for photos/graphics at The Journal Gazette.