Three Journalists Who Covered 9/11 Remember< < Back to
Marc Rosenweig is Assistant Professor of Broadcasting at Montclair State University. He joined MSU in 2007 following a career of more than three decades as a television reporter, producer, executive producer and program manager.Rosenweig was a member of program management teams that launched CNBC and the YES Network for the New York Yankees. He was senior vice president of programming and production for King World Productions, where he supervised news magazine, talk and court shows and was senior executive producer at WWOR-TV in New York. He also worked as a reporter, producer and executive producer at television stations in Miami, Detroit and New Orleans.Marc was part of production teams honored with the DuPont Columbia and George Polk Awards. He is the recipient of six New York Emmy Awards. He also moderates panels with sports media professionals at The Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the Montclair State campus. Rosenweig has a Master of Science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Ohio University. In 2010, he received the L.J. Hortin Distinguished Alumnus Award from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.
We all remember where we were on the morning of September 11, 2001. But three journalists remember more vividly than most. One was nearly buried as one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell, another was over the scene in a traffic helicopter, and the third was running a New York television newsroom.
WABC-TV reporter N.J. Burkett and photographer Marty Glembotzky were taping a standup near the South Tower when it collapsed. They escaped by running into the lobby of the American Express Building right next to them.
“Not everyone could get through the door,” said Burkett. “And, I have to live with that. If there were no door, if the door were locked, if I had to run for half a block, I don’t think I would be here….It’s the worst day of my life.”
WCBS radio traffic and transit managing editor Tom Kaminski was in the station helicopter over Manhattan and initially thought there was an explosion, not something hitting the first building. But soon he and his pilot realized an aircraft had crashed into the first building. Then another plane hit the second tower.
“…while I was on the air I glanced at my notes on my clipboard, and that’s when I became aware of my hands trembling,” said Kaminski in a narrative he wrote not long after 9/11. “My right leg, clamped down on the switch that turns on my broadcast radio, was shaking uncontrollably. I also now recall blinking a lot, not because of smoke or fumes or dust, just from disbelief.”
At almost the same moment, Dan Forman, then news director of WABC-TV, saw pictures of the first tower burning as he entered the station lobby and thought it was an accident. By the time he got out of the elevator and walked into the newsroom, the second plane had hit the other tower. He knew it wasn’t by chance.“It shook me on so many levels,” said Forman.
“It shook the foundation. How will it affect our lives, our safety, our business?” Forman also worried about his former colleagues at WNBC-TV in the landmark 30 Rockefeller Plaza building.Over the past decade, there’s been a lot of coverage of those who died on 9/11, the impact on their families and the health issues faced by many first responders. Rightly so. But we haven’t heard a lot from the journalists who covered the tragedy.
“Maybe it’s time to talk about the impact on journalists,” said Burkett. “I’m old school mentality and the story should not be about you, but 9/11’s different. I was uncomfortable talking about it because people died.
“I got through that door and other people didn’t,” said Burkett. “It does affect me. I have to find something meaningful in all this. 9/11 can’t be corrosive for me or I’ll never get out of bed.”
“When I became a news director,” said Forman, “I never thought I’d be announcing in the newsroom ‘if you need a gas mask go to one room, if you need psychological counseling go to another room. ‘ As a leader you had to be calm. People worried about their own safety and their families.”
Since the two-way radio transmitters and telephones were down, for about an hour Forman couldn’t locate his reporters and photographers in the field. He didn’t know how many viewers were watching WABC’s coverage since all station transmitters (except for WCBS’ Empire State Building transmitter) were destroyed atop the World Trade Center.
“I hope 9/11 is the biggest story I’ll ever cover,” said Kaminski. “It never leaves me. I flew past it (the World Trade Center) five or six times a day. It changes everybody’s perspective.”Burkett, Forman and Kaminski often think about that day. Forman says he thinks about it every time he crosses the George Washington Bridge and notices the twin towers are gone.“I think a lot about the engineer Don DiFranco,” said Forman of the WABC engineer who died at the transmitter site along with five other engineers from other broadcast companies. “I think of him as a symbol of a guy up there doing his job. He was a young grandfather. I watched his family go through the full range of emotions…
”Independent photojournalist Bill Biggart also died that day when the North Tower collapsed. He is believed to be the only working journalist killed on 9/11.“I don’t think there’s been a lot of discussion about the journalists who covered it,” said Forman. “I do think the public should know about what went on. I think journalists put their lives on the line and you never hear about it.”
“I’m proud of the coverage I did that day,” said Kaminski. “My own story was right at the beginning. It pales in comparison to those who were there when the buildings came down.” When New York air space was closed to traffic, Kaminski continued reporting from the ground after the helicopter landed in New Jersey.
“..the days since 9/11 I’ve walked into the building and said, ‘you know, how do I keep doing it?’” said Burkett. “But I think that in the days following 9/11, I was in a lot of denial about how close it was. I also felt that this was, you know, the worst thing I will ever have to cover. And I know I had to be there for the audience.”Every year Burkett and photographer Marty Glembotzky talk on 9/11. Glembotzky no longer works at WABC-TV, but his work and Burkett’s is featured in the 9/11 exhibit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Burkett says the conversation this year will have special meaning.
“The conversation will be about how fortunate we are,” said Burkett. “We’ve come so far since 9/11.”
Burkett has not covered 9/11 memorials over the years, finding it too difficult. But he hopes to be involved in coverage this year. Kaminski expects he won’t be able to fly on 9/11 due to air space restrictions, but hopes to contribute to WCBS radio’s coverage. When Forman looks to the future he has concerns about the scope of 9/11 coverage.
“I worry a little bit that people will forget it,” said Forman. His concern is based on the strong opposition he faced when he later became WNBC VP of News, from some NBC News executives who didn’t want him to pre-empt the “Today” show to carry annual 9/11 memorials. That meant losing up to four hours of lucrative commercials. Still, Forman made the decision to cut away from “Today” to cover the memorials with support from top NBC corporate executives.
“In a few years they’re going to have to decide how much to cover,” said Forman of the memorials. “The eleventh anniversary will be interesting. Will they pull back? Will all six (local New York stations) carry all of it?” Even New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wondered aloud recently if the names of the almost 3,000 9/11 victims should be read at memorials beyond the tenth anniversary.
Burkett, Kaminski and Forman won’t forget the trauma of 9/11. They consider it part of a journalists’ job. It’s something future generations need to know.
Editor’s note: If you have a comment or want to reach Marc Rosenweig, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org