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The Big Picture
Rebecca "Becky" Coates Nee, a veteran TV news anchor/reporter, is a professional life/career coach. Check out her website at to take the coachability test, subscribe to her free "Beyond the Box" newsletter and to find out if you're an adrenaline junkie.

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 TV.

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 lives.

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 news, too.

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 should be.