REMEMBERING 9/11: The most memorable day in my journalistic career

The Manistee News Advocate published an "Extra" special edition on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Manistee News Advocate published an “Extra” special edition on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001.

Being in the newspaper business the length of time I have been working at it usually means you get to experience a variety of story topics to cover during the course of your career.

When I visit classrooms for the Newspapers in Education program or speak to any other group, the one overriding question that comes up more than any other is, “What is the most memorable story you ever wrote?”

The answer is quite simple, and that is when I helped to cover what transpired on Sept. 11, 2001, or the day that will forever be known in history as 9/11. From a reality standpoint it was a scary nightmare that saw the loss of thousands of lives, but from a reporter’s perspective it is one of the things all journalists look to cover at least once in their career — a story that will live on for decades.

What is amazing is that 16 years later, the images remain so clear in my mind. It was a sunny fall day and what stands out so clearly was that crisp blue sky. Not the type of day you would expect something so tragic to take place.

My schedule called for me to work the afternoon shift that day, but when my phone rang in the morning it was then-editor Dave Barber on the line. He told me a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center buildings, and I needed to come into work immediately.

Not knowing the circumstances left me cussing to myself and saying things like, “Who cares that a plane hit a building?” Sixteen years later I can say with all honesty Dave had a “sixth sense” that day and knew something big was brewing.

That became evident to me as well shortly after arriving at the News Advocate office. What transpired over the next few hours in New York, Washington and even little Manistee still have me shaking my head in amazement.

Like most people we were watching the events unfold on television, but the decision was quickly made to put out an “Extra” special edition. How rare is that you ask?  Well in the 100 plus years of existence, the Manistee News Advocate had put out only two of them with the other one being on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Looking back years later, it makes me feel kind of special that I played a small role in the publication of that second edition. Especially since a young pressmen at the News Advocate in 1941 was my dad who printed off the first one.

Things happened fast on the morning of Sept. 11, and it was “all hands on deck” as even our then-sports editor Greg Gielczyk came in to offer some very valuable help. I remember Greg went out to the Manistee Blacker Airport to cover that aspect because all airports were shut down on a national order. What he found was incredible in that the Manistee County Sheriffs Department was at that location because no one knew what would happen next.

I remember on a whim calling the number for then-Rep. Pete Hoeksra’s office in Washington, fully not expecting to have anyone answer. When Hoekstra’s press secretary Jamal Ware, whom I knew from covering the congressman, picked up the phone it seemed to shock both of us.

“How did you get through as all the phones in Washington are down?” said Ware. My response was a simple, “I just picked up the phone and dialed.”

What transpired then was nothing short of phenomenal to me. Jamal gave me a scoop that small newspapers everywhere would have loved to have had at the time. He described the view out his window of being able to see the smoke from the Pentagon where a plane had hit and the chaos in the streets below.

After several minutes I distinctly remembering him saying, “We have to evacuate the offices and I have to go, Ken.”  I remember telling him to “be safe” and weeks later when he came to Manistee with Rep. Hoekstra, we talked more in depth about the odds of that call actually going through.

Shortly after that call, I got word that Manistee resident John Balcer was in the second tower attending an insurance conference when the second plane hit the second tower. I was able to connect with his dad, Frank, and later with John and was filled in on that experience.

As remarkable as it seemed, we had two eye-witness accounts to what was transpiring on one of the biggest days in American history. When the special edition hit the street later that day all of the staff looked at it with more than a little pride that we had pulled off what we did in such a short time.

Without a doubt, it will always stand as my most memorable day as a journalist — bar none.

Ken Grabowski is the associate editor for the Manistee News Advocate. He can be reached at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com or (231) 398-3125.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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