Tags: Staff Editorial
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April 23, 2013 | 02:21 PMSeptember 11, 2001.
I heard about the first plane hitting the towers on the radio on the way to the newspaper that morning. Everyone thought it was a single airplane crash; no one thought it was terrorism.
When I got to work everyone was buzzing. The second plane had hit. It was becoming obvious: We were into something America had never experienced before. A terrorist attack.
I went to a co-worker's apartment and we carried her small portable TV to the car and brought it into the office.
Everyone huddled around it and watched the events unfold.
I suddenly realized I was the only one at my computer writing. The only one emotionally distant.
Flash ahead to last Monday. The day of the Boston Marathon Massacre.
Someone in the newsroom asks me how we're going to cover it.
"I'll think of something," I said.
Tuesday morning comes around and I don't have a clue.
I met with Managing Editor Rob Ireland and reporter Jade Bolack, who'd been trying to track down locals who might have been at the race.
We couldn't find anyone and knocked around a few other ideas. We're a local newspaper. This isn't something we usually cover. We decide not to write something just to write something. I hate made-up stories. "Tell me something I don't know," an old editor told me.
"And the story might change by the time we go to press," Ireland said.
We decide to punt. Think of some different angles. Wait until next (this) week to cover it in a way that makes sense for us.
Later, I wrote a draft of a column about how local newspapers should or shouldn't cover national stories. "Did you expect to read about the Boston Marathon tragedy in last week's Regional News?" was the first line.
I emailed a draft to my girlfriend, as I sometimes do with my columns.
She didn't respond.
Instead, she sent me a series of emails about coverage of the bombing on TV. The horrors, the tragedy, the trauma.
I could almost see the tears welling in her eyes.
I called her to say good night as I often do.
"I'm tired," are my first words, as they often are.
There was silence on the other end. We chatted for awhile but there was a deadness in her voice.
Obviously, me being tired was a woefully minor event considering the tragedy of the day.
"Is there something wrong?" I ask, still not getting it.
"It's just too much," she said.
Suddenly, I realized how oblivious I'd been.
The Boston Marathon event was a tragedy for her, a news story for me.
There's usually such a connection between us, but not now.
I've always been this way, at least since I've been a journalist — which was more than 40 years ago now.
I'm an emotional outlier when it comes to the news. An observer.
I walk into a burning building and I'm looking for a story angle. I'm observing the debris. Looking at the time when the clock stopped on the wall, for instance, so I can put it into words.
I'm listening to the emotional recollections of those I'm interviewing to get their cadence just right. Making sure I make a mental note of the best quotes.
It's all about the story.
I sent flowers to my girlfriend to ease her pain, relieve my guilt.
My girlfriend decided to have some friends over that night. Wine and conversation. Trying to forget.
All I do is write this column.
Putting words where feelings are for most people.
Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.