Zero Hour: Reflections on September 11

By Herbert Lowe

Dust covered shoes belonging to writer Herb Lowe after witnessing September 11, 2001.

Dust covered shoes that the writer was wearing during the events of September 11, 2001. Photo by Herb Lowe.

Last night, I watched “Inside 9/11: Zero Hour,” the National Geographic Channel’s extraordinary retelling of the terrorist attacks against our country on September 11, 2011. Next Sunday, of course, marks the 10th anniversary of those attacks, and every news organization across America will reflect on what happened that day and where we are as a nation today.

I was a reporter for Newsday on 9/11 so, of course, watching “Zero Hour” brought back vivid memories for me. Here is the beginning of my 3,600-word account of 9/11:

On the evening of September 10, 2001, a deputy city editor gave me – a reporter in the Queens bureau of Newsday – my assignment for the following day: Starting at 10 a.m., if not called earlier, cover “all non-Election Day news” in New York City. From crime to quirky, if it happened in the five boroughs and wasn’t linked to Primary Day, I would scoot to the scene.

What happened that next day changed everything – then and forever.

Two dozen people are standing around a dark-colored SUV, listening to news blaring from its radio. All of a sudden, many, many people are running east on Wall Street. Fast as they can, as if their lives depend on it. I run, too. Now people are running on William Street, in both directions. Everyone is running from all directions. Some of us stop. “What are we running from?” I wonder. “Where should we run?” People are looking up at the sky but no one says why. So many people are screaming.

Questions I have now: “Is another plane up there? Are we being shot at from above? Like Pearl Harbor? Are terrorists running through the streets with guns?” I stop running. I say to myself, “Today I’m going to die.”

People are running again. “Go! Go! Go!” yells a man in shirtsleeves, waving his right arm and pointing east on Wall Street with each word. Still no one says why. But it is clear this man is telling all of us to run or we will be very sorry.

On Thursday, I will focus on 9/11 for both of the two journalism courses I’m teaching this semester. My students were in grade school that day. They are learning to how to report and analyze what will be the historic stories in the years to come. I intend to have them pour through the excellent retellings and reflections of 10 years ago offered by today’s media. And I want them to consider how 9/11 would be reported with the advent of social media.

Also on Thursday, I will present my September 11 story via Skype to Renee Collins’ journalism class at Adrian College in Michigan. Friday, my new Diederich College colleague, Danielle Beverly, and I will share our 9/11 perspectives with reporter/producer Mitch Teich on the interview show “Lake Effect,” on WUWM-FM (89.7). And, one of my students, Katie Doherty, intends to interview me for an online video feature about September 11 she’s doing for the Marquette Tribune.

The commemoration is a good time to reflect, share and teach. Here’s hoping that we have done all three equally well enough to protect against another such attack on our soil anytime soon.

Herbert Lowe is a journalism professional in residence in the Diederich College of Communication.

1 Response to “Zero Hour: Reflections on September 11”

  1. 1 CeeBee September 6, 2011 at 10:48 am

    On July 20, 1969 the swim meet I was attending was stopped so we could watch the first American moon walk. I still remember shivering on the floor as I watched in amazement. That day was probably one of my favorite historical moments because I can actually say I was there. I went to sleep that night feeling that I could accomplish anything.

    On Sept. 11, 2001 I was working for South Milwaukee Schools. It amazed me that the teachers in all the classrooms we watching history unfold once again. School curriculum had stopped as they watched, quietly at the scene before them. From Kindergarten on up to High School all eyes were glued to the screen. That night may have been difficult for those children and their families as the discussions around the dinner table were most likely not as optimistic as mine was in 1969.

    But the next day, on Sept. 12, you could tell that the parents and families had seen the stories of reporters on the scene such as Professor Lowe. You could tell that they thought about the stories of heroics and strength that were being conveyed through the television coverage.

    The next day it was extremely difficult to not find an American Flag waving in the front yard of any home.

    No social media was used to ‘tweet’ about flags, no ‘flash mob’ was staged. People did what they knew was right to show support for the families and the country.

    I wonder if the addition of citizen journalism and social media would have desensitized the audience and made it feel less of a ‘real’ situation. Sometimes less is more and this may just be one of those instances where it applies.

    I await the articles that will come of professor Lowe’s assignment and hope that some of them will be included in the student portfolio section of the Diederich College website.

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