OUR STORY: GCN chronicled attacks' fallout

Aboard a plane and on his way to a conference at the time of the attacks, GCN executive editor Thomas R. Temin spent Sept. 11 and 12 editing stories via handheld and fax from South Haven, Miss.

Henrik G. DeGyor

GCN's first issue after September 11

News staff scrambled as Washington responded to terrorist acts

'They're attacking New York!'

Susan M. Menke, GCN's chief technology editor, shouted from her office at 9:02 a.m. last Sept. 11.

From my office, next to Menke's in GCN's former home in Silver Spring, Md., I asked, 'Who's attacking New York? What are you talking about?'

Her explanation'that someone had flown an airplane into the Twin Towers'seemed preposterous. Of course, we soon learned to our horror that it was true, a point driven home brutally by TV footage of a large airliner slamming into the second tower, and later the collapse of both buildings.

The fear and confusion elevated when a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, just 12 miles away.

My wife was home that day, and I desperately tried to call her. Thousands of other people apparently had the same idea, and I was unable to get through for more than an hour.

Finally, I reached her on my cell phone. She hadn't turned on the radio or television to hear of the attacks and was terrified when I told her. Just about everyone at GCN made similar calls and also made quick runs to the meeting room where a television was tuned to the news coverage of the event.

As the numbness of the initial reaction wore off, GCN's editorial staff knew it had a job to do. We ripped up the nearly complete designs and layouts for the next week's issue and rebuilt the news section from scratch in a day.

While workers in New York and at the Pentagon labored frantically to save victims, GCN's editors and reporters worked to chronicle the news for our readers. No one on the staff emerged a hero, the way rescue workers did at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, but we did our best to provide relevant information.

Menke and features editor Kevin McCaney, filling in for managing editor Vanessa Jo Roberts, who had gone on maternity leave a week earlier, quickly established a plan for GCN's coverage and provided leadership in the face of the day's chaos.

Dipka Bhambhani and Richard W. Walker led the paper with a first-person account of the Pentagon attack and reports on how agencies were working to shore up their security weaknesses. Four other writers contributed to the story, and even more developed other articles about the responses of federal, state and local agencies.

In one report, Preeti Vasishtha and Walker captured the spirit of federal workers returning to the job Sept. 12. It was a quiet resolve that saw most feds back at work even though the liberal leave policy would have given them the day off.

No fear

'It's pretty much back to work,' Stephen R. Ditmeyer of the Federal Railroad Administration told Vasishtha. 'There is no fear.'

The confusion that ruled the day made covering the events all the more difficult. Misinformation from a variety of sources led reporters to investigate accounts of a plane crashing into the USA Today building in Arlington, Va., a car bomb attack on State Department headquarters in Washington and a firebomb explosion on the National Mall. All these reports proved false, but in the blur of the moment, it was difficult to know fact from fiction.

The ripples from the attacks also left GCN's editors making a lot of the decisions about our coverage by phone and fax. GCN executive editor Thomas R. Temin was airborne at the time of the attacks on a flight from Charlotte, N.C., to Phoenix to attend a conference. The plane had been in the air for about an hour when the pilot announced that it would have to land immediately.

The aircraft landed in Memphis, Tenn., and Temin emerged into a terminal that was crowded with displaced passengers who were hushed by the day's devastating events. 'I got Susan Menke on the phone,' Temin said. 'I thought 'impossible' when she said the World Trade Center had collapsed.'

With flights grounded nationwide, Temin rented a room at the Fairfield Inn in South Haven, Miss., and edited faxed copies of GCN pages.

On his wireless Palm VII, he wrote a commentary about the Federal Aviation Administration's skill in getting hundreds of planes safely to earth after the attacks grounded all flights.

GCN's coverage of the tragedy went more in-depth the following week. Chief copy editor Jim Sweeney put together that issue's In Brief page around the topic of the attacks and featured a chilling shot from a NASA satellite of lower Manhattan, with rising smoke from the scene visible from space.

William Jackson dissected the cybersecurity implications of the attacks, and Patricia Daukantas examined the data recovery efforts of agencies whose servers and storage had been destroyed.

GCN changes

Much has changed at GCN since the attacks. Our offices moved from suburban Silver Spring to a Capitol Hill Washington location'putting us closer to the government agencies we cover as well as to targets of further terrorist acts.

Covering the government has become more difficult since Sept. 11. Many federal workers are more guarded in what they say to re-porters for fear of compromising security.

While most work has returned to normal at GCN and the agencies we cover, it's business as usual with an asterisk. No one can pretend things will ever be the same.


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