Journalism professor recounts 9/11 newsroom experience

Carl Blankenship

Appalachian State University journalism professor Lynette Holman was working in a newsroom on Sept. 11, 2001.

Holman, who was the business page designer for The Virginian-Pilot at the time, woke up that morning to care for her then-13-month-old daughter when she saw news about the attacks on a spanish television channel she happened to switch to, which showed the fire from where the first plane hit.

“I remember I called my boss – the news editor at the time, Paul Nelson – and asking him if he wanted me to come in early,” Holman said.

Holman said the newsroom was very business-like and that the entire team was in the room at the time.

“I was there until midnight,” Holman said. “We had a first run at 10 p.m., another at midnight, and another run at 1 a.m.”

The Virginian-Pilot is based in Norfolk, Virginia – a major military town.

“Especially as a military town it was really important to approach that angle,” Holman said. “It had a great impact on the military folks in town being called to action and sent abroad.”

Holman said the situation was stressful but that it felt that she was in touch with the mission of a journalist.

“It felt like we were doing an important task for our society and our community,” Holman said.

That year The Virginian-Pilot won a “World’s Best Designed” newspaper award from the Society for News Design, the same year the editors chose to run a photo of a person jumping from one of the towers in a 9/11 issue.

“We got a lot of phone calls about that,” Holman said. “The fact that people were making this choice to jump as opposed to die in the fire, everybody was talking about how horrible that was.”

Holman said that a lot of images of bodies and carnage that were the result of the attacks did not come over the wire and only surfaced later over the Internet.

The paper ran local content about the attack’s effects on the area as well as a story on the ships sent from the naval base in Norfolk to disaster areas.

Holman said the scene in the newsroom was very focused.

“There was a lot of stress and a lot of energy, but it was very professional,” Holman said.  “There’s an energy like no other in a newsroom when something important happens, and when that happens you really feel like part of a greater mission.”

Story: Carl Blankenship, News Reporter