“Had we really known the truth of what was to come, we all probably would have been a lot more scared that day.”
By Maria St. Louis-Sanchez
Until Sept. 10, 2001, The Collegian’s big story of the year was the untimely resignation of the student government vice president.
Then our world changed.
Until then, our generation had lived relatively sheltered lives. We didn’t have to live through the first or second World War or Vietnam with fear of our fathers or ourselves being drafted. The worst we had was the Gulf War in the early ‘90s which lasted less than a year and was in a far away place that didn’t seem relevant to our lives.
On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism and fear were suddenly relevant. Sept. 11 showed our generation that we weren’t as safe as we had grown up to believe, that terrorism can happen at any place, at any time.
We had to deal with that realization at the same time we knew we had to put out a newspaper on one of the most important dates in history. Frankly, I’m glad I had a job to do, because I’m sure it was much easier than spending the entire day watching the same ghastly scenes on television. So we got to work. We skipped class because we couldn’t fathom sitting through lectures instead of putting out the paper.
I invited guest columnists from different perspectives and religions to contribute. We added extra pages without ads so we could run the photos that we needed. We killed the comics page to add in extra stories. Our advisor, Jeff Browne, suggested we
take the rare, but not unprecedented, step of writing a front-page editorial.
News Managing Editor Zeb Carabello summed our thoughts perfectly: “For the first time in our generation, we have been witness to an unfathomable, blatant attack on civilians on American soil, sobering us with concerns about our safety, our stability and our future roles in the world.”
Dealing with fears: Usually, the reporters and editors left once their jobs were done, but that day we all waited until the last page was sent late at night. We needed to see the paper through. Then we silently packed our things and walked out, headed to our separate homes to deal with the thoughts and fears we’d been trying to avoid all day.
It would be an understatement to say that day changed the rest of the school year and the way we approached the Collegian. For example, just days before we had considered having a staff T-shirt that somewhat mocked then-president George W. Bush.
But on Sept. 11, as we crammed in a conference room to hear him address the nation, we were all supporters. At that moment, we needed him to know what he was doing.
That school year we were obsessed with national security and probably ran too many national wire stories instead of focusing more on campus issues that our student readership couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.
Watchdogs: Very soon after Sept. 11, the issues of balancing privacy with national security would start to arise and we had to understand our role of being watchdogs and looking for government overreach, while still being worried about our future and our safety.
For ourselves, we also had to worry about getting jobs in a time of an uncertain economy. I would go on to see several of my talented peers leave the journalism field, both by choice and attrition. I was able to stick it out in journalism, with Sept. 11 marking my first real challenge as a journalist.
I’m glad that young staff didn’t know then that 15 years later—enough time to get married, start a family and change careers—that we were the last generation to grow up in a safety bubble and we’d still be dealing with terrorism threats and the same privacy issues.
Had we really known the truth of what was to come, we all probably would have been a lot more scared that day.
9/11 refocused the Collegian’s presentation of news
By Gary Kimsey
The tone, scope and look of the Collegian changed dramatically after the newspaper published on September 12, 2001, the bold banner front-page headline “TERROR IN U.S.” above a large color photograph of smoke pouring from the World Trade Center. It was, by far, the most dramatic, the most stunning and the most dismally sad front page published in the newspaper’s 110-year history.
Even in its early decades, the Collegian often published articles that, in one way or another, looked at international and national issues. Beginning in the 1960s, the newspaper relied on news services like the Associated Press and United Press International to provide U.S. and world news.
The big switch: Beginning with the terror headline, the Collegian in the 2001-02 school year suddenly became a publication that emphasized international and national news as strongly (and sometimes even more enthusiastically) as it did campus and local news.
The Collegian was, of course, responding to the national anxiety and fears of the times.
All eyes of America were suddenly focused on formidable, dangerous and often unsolvable problems around the world, particularly in the Mideast where the search began for Osama bin Laden. There were many, many major national and international issues reported by the Collegian throughout the 2001-02 school year: anthrax scares, bombings in Israel, controversies around the proposed cloning of humans, the Islamic military’s kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and illegal financial shenanigans by Enron Corp., to name just a few.
Given all the turbulence in the world, it wasn’t unusual to see the Collegian’s front and inside pages, as well as the editorial pages, crowded with articles, side by side, about international, national, local and campus issues.
Take the front page on March 5, 2002, as an example. The top story was about U.S. secretary of defense Donald H. Rumsfeld talking about the deaths of soldiers in a battle against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. The second story on the page focused on the closure of CSU’s Silver Spruce yearbook due to a lack of student interest. The third story: Tough times for CSU graduates to find work. The final article was coverage of a Nobel Prize winner speaking on campus about freezing atoms.
Astounding variety: The wide variety of available news during the school year was astounding, and editors sometimes faced tough choices. Should this story be published rather than that or this one? Does the story warrant front-page coverage or should it be slipped onto an inside page?
Much to their credit, Collegian staff members spent considerable time and effort interviewing campus experts to get local slants and reactions for stories of international and national importance.
However, as typically happens—regardless of the newspaper, magazine, TV or radio network—readers are never shy about giving back-handed slaps to the media. This was shown when the Collegian launched a daily column, Campus Voice, where four different students were interviewed about topics that ranged from campus to international issues.
The question on Feb. 5, 2002: “What’s your biggest complaint about the Collegian?” Two responses demonstrated the unawareness of some readers about how and why the newspaper presented information:
One interviewee responded, “The lack of international coverage, even though it’s a campus paper.”
On the other hand, another interviewee said, “Too many articles written by the Associated Press.”
Tricky business: In mid-September, the Collegian’s state editor, Josh Hardin, who would go on to become the editor-in-chief in the 2002-03 school year, published an editorial noting that members of the media around the world had discovered that covering the 9-11 crisis was a “tricky business.” Some Americans, for instance, complained that television images were too graphic or printed quotes were too dramatic.
Some of these critical feelings, of course, spilled over toward the Collegian, which issue after issue continued to report the developing story of terrorism.
Nonetheless, 9-11 had one positive effect. Hardin wrote: “Here at the Collegian newsroom these events—that were perpetrated by the worst of people—seemed to bring out the best in us.”
At the time of 9/11, the Collegian was in its 110th year. It is impossible to know how the tiny staff that launched the newspaper in 1891 would feel about the way the Collegian evolved and matured, particularly in the 2001-02 school year. But chances are good that those long-gone Collegian creators would have been amazed, proud and, most likely, envious.
The author of this second blog, Gary Kimsey, is helping the Collegian update its history book published at the end of the newspaper’s first century in 1991. The updated book will include the last 25 years, from 1991 to 2016. The year 2016 marks the newspaper’s 125th anniversary.