Tragic morning still etched in newspaper editor's memory

By LARRY C. BOWERS
Posted 9/11/19

My memories of Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001, are much as they would be for any hardworking newspaper editor, although it was to become a day of unforgettable horrors, unimaginable events which …

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Tragic morning still etched in newspaper editor's memory

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My memories of Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001, are much as they would be for any hardworking newspaper editor, although it was to become a day of unforgettable horrors, unimaginable events which etched the face of terrorism into our minds forever.

Eighteen years later,  visions remain from photographs that rolled into the Banner's newsroom via television channels, and stories and photographs from the Associated Press.

There were also follow-up stories of neighbors and friends who were directly impacted.

The morning began routinely enough, with my morning shower and a goodbye to my little dachshund, Lucy. Lucy is still with me, 18 years later, and a major plus in my life.

That Tuesday, those many years ago, was expected to be a busy morning, with Cleveland City Council and Bradley County Commission meetings the day before.

At the time, as executive editor, I was covering the Council and Commission.

Management of the newsroom, proofreading, and layout and design of the Daily Banner, occupied my early-morning hours.

Planning for that day's newspaper was unusually  hectic, since the community had been dealt a tragic  blow with three traffic deaths, in separate accidents.

I was also involved in ongoing communication with a Lee University senior, a young lady who  was gaining nationwide recognition and prominence  in the Miss America competition.

The reigning Miss Cleveland and Miss Tennessee, Stephanie Culberson of Knoxville, was sharing her experiences from the national event with a daily column in the Banner. She eventually finished in third place in the competition that year.

These local news stories were to become miniscule as the morning progressed, when the towering  World Trade Center tumbled to the New York City sidewalk, amid thousands of deaths and worldwide disbelief.

As a career journalist, I have memories of many events through the years. They have provided me with  happiness and joy, as well as sadness. They have been enjoyable, unenjoyable and even weird at times.

There was never a more gut-wrenching event than Sept. 11, 2001. As a professional journalist, you don't realize it until sometime after. At the time, you are focused on doing your job, for your readers.

On that fateful Tuesday, the progression of the newspaper was moving forward, and we were approaching presstime in mid-morning.

We then began to get hints that something extraordinary was on the horizon. It's a little thing that happens in the world of news, and oftentimes you don't realize it until it arrives, and slaps you in the face.

It began with scattered telephone calls, most from people who were watching the initial television break-ins. Later came calls from people who were actually in New York.

Then the Associated Press broke in. The first stories were primarily about an airplane flying into the World Trade Center in New York City, but they failed to relate  the full expanse of the horror.

In the Banner newsroom, our focus was centered on our limited availability of television coverage. There was only a single television in the publisher's office, with basic coverage. Then, there was also the beginning of a stream of AP stories.

A decision was quickly made to redo the front page of the Banner, attempting to inform our readers of the happenings in New York City, and elsewhere.

We also scurried around with telephone calls to people of authority (locally), who might shed some light on what was happening.

One of those calls was to Secret Service Special Agent Tim Gobble, who was later to become Bradley County sheriff. Other local and national officials  were also contacted.

With information from these inquiries, and excellent updates and photographs from the Associated Press, we were able to provide  our readers with an informative newspaper, hitting the streets of Cleveland shortly after noon.

The  Banner was later recognized for its timely coverage, and our ability to get the news out as quickly as we did. This was strengthened by the fact the Banner is an afternoon publication. Morning publications did not come out until the following morning.

The Banner's front-page design received follow-up commendations, and was reproduced in a special AP feature of coverage in newspapers across the nation.

A framed copy of that Banner front page remains in the lobby of the Cleveland Daily Banner offices today.

Remembrance of that day, and its impact on the world in general, will remain with me forever.

Through it all, I salute my co-workers at the Banner, for being able to inform the community that the world had changed. It has changed even more in the aftermath.

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