Where Were You?
By Rebecca Coates Nee
September 24th, 2001
Becky looks at how the terrorist attacks are shaping decisions
on whether to leave TV news, stay or return.
As the shock fades and reality creeps in Ė if that is possible
after such an unfathomable attack Ė the "Where were you?"
stories circulate. For current and former broadcasters, the
answers reveal a lot.
At 8:45 EST on the morning of Sept. 11, most journalists on
the East coast were reporting to work Ė able to watch breaking
news break in real time on their monitors. I was jogging.
Blissfully unaware of the destruction underway in the same
time zone, I rounded another street corner Ė thinking about
the weighty issues facing my coaching clients for the day.
One was struggling with her organizational skills. Another
was deciding whether to leave TV news. Someone else was worried
about losing his business in an uncertain economy.
9:30 A.M. Ė I neared my house, mentally packing for my long-overdue
but soon-to-be canceled trip out of the Florida humidity and
home to California in two days. Finally inside, I saw the
answering machine beckoning but opted for a quick shower instead.
My first client would be calling at 10.
I hadnít even dried off when the phone rang again. "What???"
I grumbled Ė expecting yet another telemarketer announcing
the special offer of the day.
Instead, my husband sputtered some nonsensical information
about evacuations, planes and the World Trade Center. For
a second I thought he was joking, but when I realized his
imagination isnít that wild, I hung up and headed for the
It had happened. Not terrorism. Iím talking about the fact
that I was officially, undeniably Out of the Loop and had
been informed - an hour late - of the biggest news story in
my life by a man who could barely name the Secretary of Defense.
The Attack on America has become a huge litmus test for current
and former broadcasters. Some who left the business longed
to be part of the coverage even in some small local way. Others
were content to watch at home, curled up with comfort food
and their families.
Reactions were mixed among those still working in TV, too.
Some dreaded the long days ahead while others knew this was
the reason they had endured a dry summer of Gary Condit stories.
When I interviewed dozens of former broadcasters for my book,
"Leaving TV: A Guide to Life After News," being out of the
loop was one of the biggest fears they cited in their post-broadcast
Why do we thrive so much on being the First to Know? In an
event of this magnitude, when or how we found out isnít as
important as what we were able to do afterward. If your next
career requires you to carry on in your cubicle, regardless
of whatís happening around you, you will want to return to
Indeed, the Gulf War was the main trigger that sent me back
to the front lines of news nearly ten years ago. I had taken
a PR job that didnít allow me time to absorb all the details.
But on Sept. 11, I canceled my clients and watched the coverage
as I obsessively cleaned out my dresser drawers Ė trying to
restore order in the chaos. Because I had the freedom to close
for the day and observe the drama, being just a viewer was
a relief Ė even though I wasnít the first to hear about it.
Itís an individual decision but an important one.
For journalists, the answer to where you were and where you
wanted to be on Sept.11, 2001 holds a big clue to where you