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.
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.
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