News knows no mercy.

By Gus Bode

It’s one of the first lessons we all learned at the DE. Tried and true, that lesson keeps resurfacing for us, and as one might predict, it resurfaces at the most unexpected of times. News breaks at midnight. News breaks across town. News breaks without an ounce of indication, and when it does, all we have is a quick tip to go on as we rush out the door with notebooks and cameras.

This is exciting. We tell stories about it afterward. We may be young and a bit on the green side, but there’s not a person working in this newsroom who doesn’t know the adrenaline rush I’m talking about.

We told stories about the botched presidential election and about the night the Strip went wild under a puddle of booze, moshing and riots.

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Now, some of these stories seem trivial.

Sept. 11 managed to change us, too.

It didn’t seem like much for the DE at first. Planes slamming into the towers of the World Trade Center, CNN and the radio plastered with reports, some of them real, some of them proven false later. For us it was too far away, part of a world that didn’t include us. But when I and a fellow reporter ran to the Student Center to see if anyone there had any reaction to what was going on, we found a surprise that remains unequaled in my short journalism career.

Everyone was staring at the televisions in the Student Center. At least a hundred people, just staring into those black boxes with their mouths agape.

I still didn’t understand this as we flew back to the newsroom, couldn’t understand the shock behind the words that had already filled a quarter of my notebook with quotes. But then there was more. The FAA had grounded all airplanes across the country. Just minutes later, a third plane went spiraling into the Pentagon, and for a moment there was another ghoulish image to break up the monotony of that same horrid shot of the plane pummeling into the side of the north tower, shooting out it’s mushroom-shaped plume of flames.

Then both the towers collapsed. All any of us could do was stare. Hell had broken loose, and this was no longer just a story anymore.

Just after 10 a.m., right before an announced press conference with Glenn Poshard and Paul Simon, we sat down to figure out what we were going to do. Even as the little student newspaper in Carbondale, Ill., there was no way to avoid this story; it was everywhere, consuming every TV channel and every radio wave. We came up with a simple plan that covered all the angles we could think of, a handful of stories that would fill the next day’s paper from front to back. Our Editor-in-Chief, Anne Marie Tavella, asked me to coordinate our coverage that day. I was shocked but said I would do my best.

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I hoped she didn’t think I really knew what was going on.

Regardless, I shot out the door moments later with Mark Lambird, my friend and fellow reporter, to the Poshard and Simon press conference. We learned nothing new there, but I couldn’t help but admire their grace in action on this issue.

When we returned to the DE shortly before noon, the newsroom had taken on a life of its own, a machine twisting and turning in a way I had never seen before. Clusters of people whom I had never seen before were clogging the areas between the newsroom desks, staring at the TV and nervously chatting among themselves. I heard something about another plane maybe being on the way. A school being evacuated. The end of the world, the final apocalypse. And here we were, a nave bunch of students, scrawling lists of sources on the blackboard and making checks for who needed to speak with them, picking up phones that never stopped ringing, trying to separate fact from fiction in a story incomprehensible to even the most seasoned journalists. I felt bad for the reporters working on stories about festivals and fraternities. How pointless they must have thought their work was.

And what was I going to do with my story for the day, a look at the impact the attacks had in Carbondale? It would seem easy enough. There were prayer vigils and gas lines, students crying in hallways and planes on the ground, yet it seemed like I had nothing to write about, no way of leading into this topic. The idea finally came to call Ed Shea, a then 86-year-old professor emeritus whom I had interviewed for another story a week earlier, to get his thoughts on what was happening. It was the perfect move. For half an hour we discussed Pearl Harbor and history, why people react to events like this in the way they do and what he thought the coming weeks and months would bring. I hung up with a smile.

I felt like I knew what my story was about; my fingers were on fire. And watching the rest of the newsroom pull together during those hours that came before deadline was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in this newsroom. For one of the few times while I’ve been here, we were focused on the same task, working under the same pressures and fighting the same emotions – a true team working together. The next day, it showed. The Sept. 12, 2001, edition of the Daily Egyptian is the best issue I had the opportunity to be a part of.

But there was no time or need for celebration. There were still weeks of stories waiting to be written, and I suspect many of my coworkers, like myself, were unable to reflect on the day until well after the final story had been filed.

For weeks afterward, that’s all we did.

How could something so terrible happen? we asked.

There was, and is, no answer to that one, except to conclude one simple thing:News knows no mercy. We learned that lesson better that day than on any other I can remember.

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