News & Scoops
AP file photo by Daniel Hulshizer 1

Reporting the events of 9/11 from Chicago

September 11th, 2016

I was a few weeks into a two-year residency program at the Chicago Tribune when the attacks of September 11 occurred.

The job of a resident, or “two-year,” was to chase news and break stories. On 9/11, while senior reporters covered the attacks, we residents focused on Chicago: the canceled flights, packed hotels and Illinois families with relatives at the World Trade Center.

I was sent to Sears Tower to talk to people who worked in the building. They shared their worries about doing business in a high-rise. When news came that the second tower was hit, interviews stopped and they fled for home.

It was an exhausting day for journalists and just the beginning of our 9/11 coverage.

The next day or soon after, residents were given a project: write an obituary about every person who died in the attacks. This assignment came about before anyone realized the death toll would reach nearly 3,000. The Tribune operated then as a national paper, so writing about victims, most in New York, wasn’t far-fetched.

We residents already produced daily obituaries, so writing about 9/11 victims seemed natural.

But it was different.

With each interview, we revisited the events of the attacks. Family members talked about their loved ones in life and agonized over their last moments before tragedy hit.

Interviews were lengthy. We learned to listen. Survivors wept. And though reporters are programmed to keep emotions in check, we cried, too. We’re human.

Our lists of names grew as more people were identified at ground zero and in the rubble.

Our stories ran most every day for more than two years. I understand the project wasn’t completed but the impact for readers and for those of us reporting has lasted a lifetime.

A hat-tip to my fellow two-years (and where they are now):

Rudy Bush (editor, Dallas Morning News), Donna Freedman (personal finance writer), Sean Hamill (reporter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Rick Hepp (an attorney), Lynette Kalsnes (communications specialist, AFL-CIO in Minnesota), Maria Kantzavelos (communications content manager, Perkins Coie law firm), Aamer Madhani (reporter, USA Today), Amy Nevala (science writer), Karen Rivedal (reporter, Wisconsin State Journal), Matt Walberg (reporter, Chicago Tribune) and Crystal Yednak (freelance journalist and education consultant).


One Response to Reporting the events of 9/11 from Chicago

  1. I had just started at the Tribune — moved down from Alaska to work there — and what an assignment. Yes, I cried silently during the interviews and out loud in the ladies room and/or at home.

    When I gave a talk about writing at a conference, I talked about saying a lot with relatively few words and mentioned obituary writers as masters of the form. Then I read one of the 9/11 obituaries. The room went very quiet.

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