Broadcast journalists have always been taught to be stoic and detached from what they are covering, but when it happens a few miles from where they are broadcasting rather than half a world away, the reaction might be different.
Fear and concern for loved ones welled up in even the most seasoned reporters on Sept. 11. A new book, ering Catastrophe(Bonus Books), gives haunting accounts of professionals trying to cope with and describe the horror that was unraveling before their eyes.
“This book has given journalists the opportunity to share what it was like to cover the biggest and most horrific story of our time,” said Alison Gilbert, one of the book’s editors. Gilbert, a Hoboken resident, is an investigative reporter for NBC 4 in Manhattan. “Broadcasters who work on the air and behind the scenes tell about the unnerving obstacles they encountered trying to report the story and what it was like to run toward disaster – not away from it,” she said. “Journalists are trained to steadfastly keep their own feelings out of the stories they cover. [But] in Covering Catastrophe, they share their personal thoughts about how they performed their jobs that day and how they felt doing it.”
The book is a series of quotes from more than 130 broadcast journalists. The most personal accounts, recollections, fears and raw emotions come from some of the most recognizable faces in the media. People like Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Larry King give first-hand accounts of their experiences.
The testimonials in Covering Catastrophe were compiled by Gilbert, Phil Hirschkorn of CNN, Melinda Murphy of WPIX-TV, and Robyn Walensky of AP Radio. All of the editors were eyewitnesses and contributors to the book. Mitchell Stevens, an NYU journalism professor, is also a contributing editor.
All royalties from the sale of the book, and a matching grant from the publisher, will be donated to two 9/11 related charities: The Citigroup Relief Fund, which will provide scholarships to children of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, and the Society of Broadcast Engineers Relief Fund, which benefits the families of the broadcast engineers killed in the World Trade Center.
The book is divided into seven chapters, and is arranged chronologically starting with the first plane hitting, and finishing with nighttime and late night thoughts.
“I was on the air, anchoring Good Day New York, when the plane hit,” said WNYW-TV Anchor Jim Ryan in the first chapter. “We immediately aired the picture being taken by Dick Oliver’s live camera in the City Hall area. It showed thick, black smoke billowing from the upper floors of the north tower. The camera caught strange, eerie crystals falling downward out of the smoke. It was broken glass from the windows.”
In chapter 5, Gilbert herself reveals that she had to get medical treatment. “I was barefoot and bleeding,” she wrote, “covered in ash, my hair was matted down with so much soot that the odor was starting to make me sick. I was taken out into the street. That’s when I saw an ambulance about to leave. I needed to be on that ambulance. I needed to get out of the area. I needed help.”
“If a story this surprising, this large, and this awful had to happen, and I had to be in the middle of it,” said NBC Anchor Tom Brokaw in the book, “I am glad I was at the age that I am, and I had as much experience as I’ve had. Because I had to use it all.”
Joe Collun, a reporter for WWOR-TV in Secaucus, wrote, “I felt honored to be one of those there to document it and make a record of the tragedy, the valor, and the inspirational response of the city and the nation, as people streamed in from all over the country to help. I compared journalists with firefighters and police officers who, when all hell broke loose, while everyone else fled for safety, rushed to the center of the storm.”
The book is available for purchase at local Barnes and Noble Bookstores or can be bought online at www.bonus-books.com.