On September 11, 2001 I was in my first year on the job at NCPR. We had spent the previous months brainstorming and focus-grouping and building a new kind of thing–a new media operation that preserved online the values and approach people had come to expect of public broadcasting on traditional platforms. Our mission was to carve out a public square in the midst of the Wild West monster mall that was the internet of the dotcom bubble years.

Ruins of the World Trade Center, 9/17/01. More than 3,000 children lost a parent in the 9/11 attacks. Photo: Chief Photographer's Mate Eric J. Tilford, U.S. Navy, public domain

Ruins of the World Trade Center, 9/17/01. More than 3,000 children lost a parent in the 9/11 attacks. Photo: Chief Photographer’s Mate Eric J. Tilford, U.S. Navy, public domain

On that blinding bright and clear morning, we were all in a staff meeting, in part to assess how our new online efforts were progressing. I think it was Bill Haenel who first got word via his PDA that something big and bad was happening in New York City. “They say a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.”

Minute by minute as the news became more dire the meeting dissolved and everyone went to their desks and phones to start a round-the-clock effort to cover the catastrophe, to help inform aid efforts, and to convene a conversation amid an environment of fear, panic and rage that is hard to convey fifteen years later to those too young to have experienced 9-11 as anything other than a history lesson.

I remember having to leave my desk every few hours just to walk around outside and clear my head.

The catch-phrase eventually became “Everything changed after 9-11.” Would that it were true. But something did change in me. I became resolved in this work. Things that I had once thought might be important, I now knew in my bones were vital. The word “mission,” which had seemed a pleasant conceit before, became capital M Mission. The so-solid world I had inhabited was suddenly revealed as irredeemably fragile. And so, fifteen years later, the part of the world that is given into my hands, I am resolved to treat with earnest care.

What insight has fifteen years of hindsight brought to you? Let us know in a comment below.


4 Comments on “9-11+15”

  1. David Duff says:

    We still haven’t answered Susan Sontag’s question, for which she was vilified, “Why do they hate us?” Until we find that answer the tragedy of hit followed by retaliation will continue. We are retaliating against something we don’t understand.

  2. Pat McKeown says:

    One of my sons was in Brooklyn, waiting for a phone call from his wife. She worked next door to World Trade. Another son was in Nyack on his way to a New York City conference that never happened. The third son had just moved to a community near the Pentagon. His wife was unpacking their boxes when the plane went over. Karen was in Massena for a Chamber meeting and I was in the parking lot at SUNY Potsdam, late for work, listening to “Morning Edition.” My first thought was my 93-year-old mother, alone in her Pennsylvania house, feeling the terror by herself. When I called her she said to me, non-plussed: “Do you know what a mess those bastards made of our beautiful city?”

  3. Mitchell Edelstein says:

    The insight I came to was that I was really a New Yorker. I was living in Bethesda Maryland. All of the local TV stations were covering the local angle, the Pentagon, Capitol Hill etc. I kept changing channels wanting more info about NYC. I finally found a feed from WPIX channel 11 in NYC and watched that the rest of the day. I moved back to NY in 2003.

  4. Trude says:

    I grew up on LI, went to NYU, and spent many happy times in the city. We were in Montana visiting family and Yellowstone National park, on the 11th. We just wanted to get home to NY . As we drove east, folks saw our NY plates and wherever we stopped there were many acts of concern and kindness extended to us, that I will always remember.

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