I'd like to visit with you about last Sept. 11 and put it in the context of last Saturday night. The broader focus - pretty much all of 2001 - will follow.
We're just journalists here at the Empire. Not smarter than you. Subject to the same temptations and emotions.
September 11 shocked us just like it shocked everyone else. The brave people are the ones who put on their emergency gear and rushed to the scenes of the attacks. Tirelessly and at great risk to themselves, they rescued and treated many amid the carnage. Other brave people rushed the cockpit of an airliner to make certain its hijackers didn't succeed in a mission of mass murder.
Firefighters, cops and airline passengers. Front-line responders. Too many of them dead. Countless other innocents alive because of them.
Events of Pearl Harbor-magnitude stop many of the rest of us in our tracks. We disengage from the daily routine in order to watch events unfold. We seek information.
In the Empire newsroom, we have to put on our game face. There's a paper to put out - the paper you will turn to for help in making sense of the incomprehensible.
In every newsroom in America, the edition of Sept. 11 or Sept. 12 became a newspaper of record. It didn't matter how good your paper was on Sept. 10. Not quite front-line responders, but a test nevertheless.
By midafternoon, my experience, intuition and intellect told me we had passed. An honest editor, like an honest coach, teacher, or symphony conductor, knows when his or her team has done a good job. As humans, we like affirming feedback. We can be pretty sure even in the absence of comments. The Empire didn't lack for positive comments. At a time of national trauma, many of you took time to call or to e-mail or to mention during supermarket encounters that you appreciated the content of the Empire and the effort behind it.
One of the points to be made now is that a group of journalists postponed personal emotional reactions to focus on the task at hand. Those who cried did so later, at home.
Two developments are worthy of special mention: Lori Thomson's front page design and Genevieve Gagne-Hawes page-one account of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. Thomson is the Empire's design editor; Gagne-Hawes is a JDHS grad and NYU student who has been interning at the Empire for summers and holiday breaks for so long that we think of her as family.
Here's the way it works: Get focused. Deadlines loom. Get it right the first time. There are no take-backs. Pressure? Oh my yes. An audience of 30,000 awaits.
Last Saturday in Anchorage at the annual convention of the Alaska Press Club, the Sept. 11 front page constructed by Thomson was named best-designed page of any daily newspaper in Alaska for any edition during 2001. The judges were design professionals at the Palm Beach Daily News. Among their several descriptives, the one that stands out is "powerful."
Gagne-Hawes was judged to have written the best breaking news story published in an
Alaska daily in 2001. The comments of judge Keith Woods of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies bear repeating:
"Gagne-Hawes' story was a familiar one for those who witnessed the attacks in New York. What distinguishes it was the controlled-but-unmistakable passion that seemed to drive each piece of description. From the blunt, vivid lead, to the gripping flashes of personal reflection throughout to a truly poetic ending, the story resonated with the sounds, smells and emotions of an authentic experience. She reported on the attacks, on the people around her and on herself, transforming what easily could have been a narrow tale of individual terror into a deep and broad portrait of a profound moment in American history. All on deadline."
The Empire won 13 awards overall, including six firsts, for its 2001 content. Ten people were named winners of the 13 awards; everyone at the Empire made the honors possible. (See Monday's Empire or visit our Web site for a complete list.) We do our jobs as best we can for you. And we thank you for your support.
Steve Reed is managing editor of the Empire. Contact him at email@example.com.
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