and the media | Challenge
of the century
The reporters at ground zero were there
to tell the story. In Suzanne Huffman's new book, they are the
By Nancy Bartosek
flee, journalists scramble forward with only one goal -- to offer firsthand
knowledge of what is transpiring.
professor Suzanne Huffman, had a slightly different perspective of last
fall's events than most. As a former broadcast journalist, she knows what
it's like to be on air when tragedy strikes -- she was reporting live
from Cape Kennedy when the Challenger exploded.
So with great
interest she noted the women on air, and on the ground, covering the news.
This year, Huffman teamed with print journalist Judith Sylvester to record
the stories of those who reported the events of Sept. 11. Their book,
Women Journalists at Ground Zero: Covering Crisis, hit the shelves
Q: Was it
difficult for these 24 women to talk about their experiences?
A: This day
is frozen in their mind like a snapshot. It's all there, imbedded in their
mind like a photograph. Some said they were glad that someone asked them
to talk about it because normally they are covering other people. They
were a little hesitant to be interviewed only in the sense that they weren't
the story. The people who died, who were injured, who lost family -- that's
Q: And yet
they are a story.
A: From our
point of view, as journalism professors and historians, what they did
and how they did it is a story to people interested in going into journalism,
and who want to understand how journalism gets done. A lot of people know
these women in a professional sense from their work. This is a way of
letting people who watched them that day know how it was for them.
Q: What struck
you as you listened to their stories?
stood out to me was their humanness. Their reactions were very much like
everyone else's, but they had to switch gears and do something very out
of the ordinary. They had to shift their mindset and behaviors and focus
on doing their job and telling the story.
It was a
catastrophic situation, and as it unfolded, no one knew what was next.
We forget that now, looking back, but they didn't know if there were other
planes, if there was another building, another bomb, or what was in the
cloud surrounding them. They were very brave and very committed to telling
Q: Was there
one story that stood out?
Harrigan's piece, "I knew I couldn't outrun it." Her story just
sends chills down my spine. She's a business reporter for Newsday,
covers Wall Street, and when she heard the fire engines go by, she thought,
"This is really bad. I have to go see what it is." She says
in her story, "When I got off the subway, I walked into hell."
She was down there at Wall Street, and people were jumping out of the
building. When the building actually collapsed, she was running from it,
and she knew she couldn't get ahead of the debris cloud and was looking
for a place to hide. And through some miracle, she got through a door
in a building and threw herself on the floor. She said when the debris
cloud went by she could hear it, and it went dark, and she prepared to
She has continued
to have a lot of difficulty with it. When she talks about it, she'll say,
"It just takes me over." Things get out of sequence in time
when she talks about it. The actual landscape was altered. Everything
was coated in dust. She had lost her glasses. She had covered this area
for years and things didn't look familiar anymore.
are the lessons from this book?
and I learned that these women did courageous work that day. They drew
on the basics they had learned in school and on the job -- to focus, to
ask the right questions, to clarify.
the women learned that the basics of journalism served them well, that
their experience served them well. There's kind of an unknown element
that still strikes some of them -- that they did find a place to hide,
they did escape the debris cloud. Some of them learned there may be a
luck factor as well.
Q: Why should
I read this book?
A: I believe
the readers will find these stories compelling. They will see how brave
these women were, and how committed they were to helping the American
people understand as best they could what was happening. It's the job
of the journalist to record the events.
first draft of history, and I think the readers will see what it's like
to do this kind of work. What these particular women are like. There's
a misconception, particularly in the case of broadcast journalists, that
it's easy and glamorous. And the truth is it's neither easy nor glamorous.
These women's experiences during this catastrophic situation illustrate
that you have to be smart, you have to be strong and you have to be focused.
I think the readers will learn how much true grit it takes to be a journalist
photo by Amy Sancetta of the Associated Press is a photo of people running
from the debris cloud, and the debris cloud is chasing them. It's a signature
shot of that day. One thing the reader should think about is that when
everyone else is running, Amy stopped and turned around.
Suzanne Huffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her book is available at the TCU Bookstore or at www.RowmanLittlefield.com.