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Waking up to a world changed

By the time I got up that day, my world had already changed.

I was working an evening shift at the Franklin News-Herald and Oil City Derrick on Sept. 11, 2001, and didn’t wake up until about 10 a.m.

I watched, not knowing what to think or feel, as the north tower collapsed.

I knew what to do, though. I wasn’t scheduled to work until 3 p.m., but I called the office and asked where they needed me.

It was simple, familiar. It was something I could do and something I could handle.

At that point, I had been a news reporter for barely a year. I usually spent my days in the three-person Franklin bureau.

As the new guy, it was not up to me to reach out to government officials — from Congress to local emergency management.

I was told to get some reactions — man-on-the-street style — then head for Oil City ready for more.

I don’t remember the comments I got, but I know people were willing to talk – not always the case on that kind of assignment.

My Franklin reactions in hand I reported to Oil City. It was probably 1 p.m.

I can’t remember if we published an extra that afternoon — I’m sure it was a possibility and I would have been told to get my work done in a hurry just in case.

The newsroom was full when I arrived. All hands were on deck — this kind of work is not something you can stop doing during a historic event.

A busy newsroom is noisy — people are generally sitting down, talking on the phone or typing.

With eight to 10 people who know each other and work together in the same room, there should be a comfortable banter between calls.

Comfortable is a relative term. Reporters see awful things. They read details of unspeakable acts, then write about them — hopefully in a way that readers can handle them. Many become jaded and joke about anything.

This day was different. The reporters were different. The newsroom was different.

I remember people standing more than usual. Not standing around talking, just not sitting.

I think there was a TV in Jim’s office at the end of the newsroom. I remember people moving that way but not spending a lot of time there. It could have been that they were just too busy, or maybe, like me, they were trying to keep it together — sticking to something familiar.

Work is that — even when it’s awful, it’s familiar.

There were bursts of frenetic activity followed by stretches of terrible quiet.

I was surprised how much information was coming in. I expected people to simply ignore our calls or have other, more important things to do.

In many cases, what the people we were trying to reach had to do that day was reassure the public, inform people of services that were available, and generally help people find a way through it all.

My story had focused on the negative much like the hard news coming out of New York, Washington, and Somerset County.

But, the paper held more than terror that day. It was too early for heroic acts and the tales of those who survived, but, in addition to sources of help and information should more terror come, I like to think we delivered a sense of normalcy.

Life had changed, but life went on.

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