Routine morning changes quickly as Star staff responds to major story
The morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, had been been like any other week day in the newsroom of The Meridian Star. It was a few minutes before 8 a.m. Press time was a little more than two hours away and the editors were busily putting the day's edition to bed.
CNN suddenly broke in with scenes from New York City that showed a huge, gaping hole in one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Smoke and fire was pouring out of the building.
Suddenly, another airliner appeared from behind the south tower. It headed straight into the building. Seconds later, fire and debris flew out of the side of that building.
That was how Penny Randall, editorial assistant, reacted as the second plane smashed into the building. At that moment, the day became anything but routine.
People in the newsroom and from around the building began gathering around the televisions to see what was happening. There was a sense of shock and disbelief. But there wasn't time for that.
Management quickly huddled and decided to increase the size of the paper by four pages. This involved not only the newsroom, but the employees of the advertising department, the composing room, engraving, the press room and the circulation department.
The 10 a.m. press time was out, but everyone was keenly aware of the need to get the paper on the street as quickly as possible. Across the building, employees were preparing to do their part in making this happen.
In the newsroom, reporters and editors were looking at how this event would affect Meridian and East Mississippi.
Within minutes, Todd and photographer Paula Merritt were on their way to First Baptist Church. The church had opened its doors for those who wanted to come in to pray. They went by the court house, looking for local reaction to the tragedy, and then headed back to the news room.
Meanwhile, Barrett, Editor Buddy Bynum and News Editor Helen Reynolds were in the center of the production storm. Assistant Managing Editor Terry Cassreino was editing copy and directing reporters while Reynolds was building pages and writing headlines.
Managing Editor Suzanne Monk and others were proofreading pages and communicating with plate room and press room workers.
When she got back from her assignment, Merritt began pulling wire pictures from The Associated Press and getting them ready for publication.
The clock was ticking.
Changing the size of the paper is easier said than done, especially at this time of the production cycle. Most of the Tuesday newspaper was finished and pages were already on the press.
While the newsroom was working on the editorial product, Advertising Director Crystal Dupr was working with Composing Room Supervisor Jennifer Hammond, adding and shifting pages, and taking care of the day's ads.
Management doubled the number of papers that are usually put in the racks and stores. Also, a copy of Tuesday's edition was also delivered to every business in Meridian as a courtesy. An additional 7,000 newspapers were printed Tuesday.
People were also being lined up to speed the delivery of the papers to the racks, once the press started.
Getting it right
Editor Buddy Bynum reflected afterwards that Tuesday morning reminded him of the day President Reagan was shot.
Interestingly, one TV network in an early report on Tuesday said eight airplanes may have been hijacked, while in fact, the number was only four.
With that in mind, Bynum was on alert to make sure that facts and not rumors were going into the paper.
The Meridian Star's mission was to tell its readers how the story affected them, Bynum said.
The press started at 11:42 Tuesday morning, an hour and 42 minutes after the originally scheduled press time. But the work was not done.
As the dust settled, people continued to watch the television reports and perhaps started to feel the pain.
Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3217, or e-mail him at sswogetinsky@themeridian star.com.