By Kellie Lambert
Associate Program Chair, Communication & Media Studies
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was working as a features writer at the Waterbury Republican-American on Meadow Street. My beat was mostly entertainment, features, human interest stories. That morning I was at my desk writing my weekly music column when I got a phone call that a plane had crashed in New York at the World Trade Center. I got up from my desk and walked to the newsroom TV, meeting several other reporters who had heard the same news. We were watching live as the second plane hit. When news from the Pentagon and Pennsylvania arrived, the mood in the newsroom turned to shock and fear.
I think that people often forget that journalists are human. When a tragic event occurs, the person covering that story has to process their own grief and personal feelings while still being the observer and information gatherer for the reader or viewer. Sometimes, it is incredibly hard to work through these moments. Sept. 11 was one of those days. Within moments of watching the events unfold, the entire staff was assembled by the executive editor to process and focus on how we could make sense of this moment for the greater Waterbury and Litchfield County communities.
Each of us was told to hit the streets with our notebooks, to gather “color” for vignettes of our communities. I walked through a deserted downtown Waterbury, trying to find someone to gently question, and ended up in a Grand Street cigar shop sitting on a couch with a stunned man watching television. We mostly sat in silence, aside from a few organic moments of conversation. I returned to the newsroom to contact local churches to find out information about vigils; I called another friend who once worked near the World Trade Center for her reaction. There were no egos for our staff writers that day; we worked as one with shared bylines contributing to a greater purpose of comfort as well as communication. While we collaborated, we waited for news of friends and loved ones in the city. One of our former reporters from the Republican-American worked in the area of the Twin Towers, and luckily was safe, but shaken and scarred from his experience.
That night, I watched the news for hours at home before briefly sleeping and returning to the newsroom to do it all over again the next day. Putting out a daily product was extremely taxing that week: Over the coming weeks, our staff covered the loss of many local souls, including a classmate of mine at Watertown High School: Gregory Spagnoletti. Every year, I say his name; “Never Forget.”
Even as a features writer, Sept. 11 infiltrated every story I wrote for several months, including how it impacted the music created in its wake; the concert industry, the entertainment industry, the fashion industry. My department covered how it affected community responses to tragedy; history and education; art; film; and more. It was imprinted in our work as writers, and it continues to be engrained in my work at Post University.
Each fall, I dig out my news file on 9/11 and look through the clips, magazines, and newspapers, as well as pictures from visiting the former Newseum in Washington, D.C., which was home to hundreds of Sept. 12 front pages; and photographs of the time I visited the World Trade Center and its observation deck. Every September, I also post a special announcement in my online classes, and I am sure to spark a discussion in my Communication & Media Studies campus classes about the event, if they remember it at all, since many of our current campus students were not even born on 9/11.
I often ask them: What does this day mean to them, and what do they know about it? Do they talk to their older family members about 9/11? How do these personal recollections impact their own processing of something that they do not remember? If social media and smartphones had existed on 9/11, how might our memories and history of that day be different, with tweeting, photos, live video? Would it have been easier if those in the city could have communicated through Facebook, to check the status “Marked Safe” from 9/11, instead of people desperately searching for news of loved ones?
Every year, students’ answers are different, and I learn from them. I hope these discussions trigger students to understand these events deeper and with more impact than a textbook and affect how they will process any future tragedies. I hope that they, like me, will “Never Forget.”
I’m grateful that Post U. is taking the time to honor the innocent and heroic lives lost on Sept. 11, from that day and beyond. By remembering, we keep alive hope that we will never repeat that horrific day, and honor those who paid the ultimate price as well as those who remain.