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September 27th, 2021

911 newspaper articlesAn educator uses newspapers to tell the story of what happened on 9/11. Janice Northerns was the Managing Editor of the Southwest Daily Times that day and recalled how she and her staff put together the news for that day. Courtesy photoEARL WATT • Leader & Times

 

The plan for the Tuesday edition of the Southwest Daily Times was moving like normal for Managing Editor Janice Northerns 20 years ago until America was attacked by extremists.

“I have really vivid memories of parts of the day and others are a blur,” Northerns said. “I remember before I went to work that morning I swung by the Activity Center to take photographs, and as I was driving to work, I heard the news bulletin that a plane had crashed. I didn’t think anything about it. We’ve heard a lot of people think the first plane was a freak accident. Thats was my feeling.”

But that feeling of an accident started to change when northerns arrived at the newspaper office.

“I got to work, and started on the regular day’s coverage,” she said. “I was working on layout, and reporters were working on stories. I know with what we planned, hardly any of it made the paper that day. I got a phone call asking  if I heard about the plane crash, still thinking it was a freak accident. Someone in the newsroom turned on the television and the second plane crashed, and we all knew this was some kind of attack.”

While there was emotion in the moment, it had to be put aside while Northerns and the staff revamped the plan on reporting the news of the day.

“The adrenaline went up and everything changed right that minute,” Northerns said. “We knew we had to switch gears and keep up with what was going on. Throughout the morning reporters came in and said this happened, that happened. I remember trying to juggle what should go on the front page when we didn’t know what was happening. We were also trying to get local connections.”

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The job of reporting to precedent, and the newsroom started to get local reactions.

“I was in shock the whole day,” Northerns said. “We had to go 90 miles per hour to get something on the page. I couldn’t even stop and think about how I felt. My daughter from UT called me and was really upset. I tried to calm her down. I had to get back to work. I told her it was going to be fine. I remember, we held off going to press to make sure we had a solid idea of what had happened.”

Even with the first edition hitting the street, Northerns and her staff continued to gather more information.

“That afternoon, we sent reporters to see what they could find out,” she said. “Somebody said they were getting pictures of lines forming at the gas stations. It was shocking to me how fast the world had changed.”

With the job of informing the community, Northerns said she and the staff took pride in being able to get the news in the paper on 9/11.

“When we did get the paper out, I felt really proud, the whole staff did,” Northerns said. “We had national coverage and a local connection, we called for reaction. We were all really pleased we had been able to get something out that day in the midst of chaos.”

Northerns went to the airport later in the day, and snow fence had been placed all around the facility.

“All airports had to be cordoned off, air traffic forced all planes to land,” she recalled. “It was quiet outside, there was an absence of planes flying in the sky. I remember when I looked at the airport how close to home this was. It affected everyone in the country, everyone felt the impact. When I got home and started watching TV with my husband Bill, I lost it. I hadn’t been able to think about it.”

Like many, Northerns expected more attacks to follow.

“I felt frightened,” she said. “We had no idea what would happen the next day. Everyone was waiting for more attacks, and a lot of people felt that way. I couldn’t let that emotion out until the paper got out.”

Northerns also recalled the national reaction, and the swell of patriotism.

“There were flags everywhere,” she said. “West Middle School had a big display on their wall. The way everyone came together in the face of a common threat, that stood out to me most. We were scared something else was going to happen, but we were in this together. That was the positive side of it, to see how the community came together. There were some vigils. I had a really strong sense of being proud of our country, how united we were, even though this was awful we would get through it.”

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