I was working in Texas at Baylor University when I came in to work and saw that the department chair had a TV on in his office. I stood in there and watched the second plane hit. Then, right before I went to my first class, the plane hit the Pentagon, where my brother-in-law was at work. He was fine, as I found out later, but it was a tense few hours for the family.
We were supposed to talk about commas or something super important like that, but I ended up changing my plans. College students, even journalism majors, are not known for being super up to date on the news, and being an early morning class, many had rolled out of bed and into my class. So I was the one to tell most of them what had happened.
There’s a theory in media studies that basically we move from OMG, OMG, OMFG coverage to “we’re working to get things back to normal” coverage fairly quickly. A building explodes and blame is cast as soon as possible, so that the public can feel like officials are on top of it, and that the risk is contained. That day, those reassurances were not quick in coming. So I took my students to watch OMG, OMG, OMFG on TV in the student newsroom. In the midst of conversations about how we could localize the story for campus media, we were able to talk a bit about how the reporters on the ground were dealing with things. They are covering a story while still in danger themselves. They most likely know people who are missing or hurt. Everything is in chaos, and it’s pretty much impossible to confirm anything. Meanwhile the editor or anchor, back in the office, is screaming for publishable/broadcastable content. It’s a lesson every journalist needs, and one that we seldom give them in J-school.
The Dart Center from Columbia thinks about journalists in crisis. There are fascinating first-person accounts of what it’s like to be the observer on the front lines.
The Committee to Protect Journalists works to make journalism a less dangerous profession.