Captured this pic on my iPhone on Monday while attending a Mets-Reds game at Citi Field with my Roscoe Labs co-founder Katrina Miles, who scored some really primo luxury box tix through a friend.
Unfortunately, the Mets lost the game 6-5. They’re now just a few days from wrapping up another sub-.500 season, which is never fun for us lifelong fans of the team.
That said, if you had asked me when the season began how it might turn out, I really thought it could’ve been a lot worse. Let’s hope they can clear up their financial and ownership drama over the offseason and get on with winning.
As always, I was glad to be able to talk to Joe Ritchie’s students in Florida A&M University’s journalism colloquium on Thursday. I’m particularly glad our Skype connection held up so well!
Below are a few afterthoughts and links related to various questions that came up in the session. Just want to be as helpful as possible to my fellow Rattlers regarding the specific things I now know they’re most curious about:
•A possible starting point for anyone interested in doing a story about FAMU veterans: J-school grad and former TV 20 anchor Chantell Black has done at least one tour in Afghanistan for the Army. I heard about it via her Twitter account a little while back before she shipped out. She’s back in the U.S. now.
Even among the current student body, I’m sure there are folks who are 20 or 22 and have done at least one tour in a combat zone. Maybe reservists who are using the military to pay for school, got called up, and are now back in the classroom, sitting right next to you everyday. That’s incredible to me. (When I was in school, I distinctly remember talking to a guy in a similar situation who had returned from the peacekeeping operation in the Balkans at the time.)
I didn’t mention this in colloquium, but there are also probably a lot of people on campus with close relatives deployed overseas, which creates all sorts of issues of its own. Those stories are also worth telling.
•To the student working on a music startup and anyone else interested in startups: Developer Eric Ries, a prominent advocate of the “minimum viable product” approach, explains the concept nicely in this video. Again, I think this is a really powerful idea to get a new project up and running.
•Just to plug those Facebook groups I mentioned again: FAMU Founders is for people who have launched or plan to launch any sort of venture. Rattler Hackers is more strictly tech-focused, for anyone who wants to learn to code or share knowledge about building products.
•To the student who asked about 9/11 in the history books: I should’ve mentioned that, in general, I’m very eager to see electronic textbooks come into wider use. That should help with quicker updates to things like historical events, since you can push changes to an e-edition easily, whereas a print version is inert once you put it in the student’s hands.
There’s also the matter of cost to students, which I think is close to criminal regarding print versions. One short-term workaround I would like to see more of is professors’ designing courses around freely available electronic materials in lieu of expensive print textbooks. If profs were more creative about looking up and linking to credible sources on the Internet, a lot of courses could be taught right now without print textbooks.
It varies a little depending on the academic discipline, of course. But for most of them, there are now a lot of great free resources out there. For instance, my wife teaches English composition at a community college here in New York using entirely free sources. Classics like the works of Shakespeare or Thoreau are now in the public domain, so is there really anything in an expensive textbook that would be more informative to her students than that? Disciplines like history and journalism could be taught similarly right now, I think.
•To the several folks who asked about Flight 93: One question I’ve never heard answered specifically is what the intended target was. People generally say it was the Capitol or the White House and leave it at that. Both scenarios are certainly scary and worth guarding against, so I guess people don’t want to go further. But after 10 years of fighting (and spying on) al-Qaeda, do we not know for sure which one was it?
It matters, especially when you consider that one of the lessons of 9/11 should be that al-Qaeda will re-try targets they haven’t been successful against. Remember, there had been a bombing of WTC in ’93 that, in retrospect, we probably should’ve taken more seriously as a warning sign of things to come.
•To the prof who asked about differences in 9/11 coverage at the News Corp-owned WSJ: One really important factor I forgot to mention is that most of us who were at the paper on 9/11 are now gone. If we were to find that 10% of the current staff were around back then, I’d be surprised.
I don’t bring that up to suggest that the current staff’s coverage will necessarily be inadequate. But it has to make things different in some way, no doubt.
•To the student who asked about Roscoe’s need for graphic designers: I think anyone who’s interested in doing design for mobile apps should take a look at the “human interface guidelines” that Apple has published for iPhone and iPad. I say that because: (1) Apple’s people are such design geniuses, it probably pays for the rest of us to pay attention to what they say on the topic. And (2) I’m guessing classroom graphics curricula haven’t quite caught up with this specific topic yet. So you probably have to make an extra effort to educate yourself.
Unfortunately, Apple password protects these documents on its developer site. But if you email me, I can help you get a copy for educational purposes.
•In conjunction with the NABJ short course, we’ve posted some additional links about mobile development on the Roscoe Blog for anyone who’s interested.
This is the final installment of a series of posts with my personal recollections of 9/11, in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the catastrophe.
I’ve tried in the last few posts to give my personal recollections and perspective regarding the New York portion of the 9/11 attacks. But there’s obviously a lot more that could — and should — be said about the topic. My goal was to spark some of that conversation.
Below is a list of additional Web resources regarding 9/11. I anticipate I’ll be adding to this over time, and I welcome suggested additions in the comments to this post:
- The complete report of the 9-11 Commission offers a highly comprehensive and readable official history of the tragedy.
- The Pulitzer-winning New York Times series Portraits of Grief is a definitive account of the 9/11 victims. Each one has a personal obituary.
- The National September 11 Memorial & Museum offers great online resources to plan a visit to Ground Zero or research 9/11 history from home.
- The family and friends of the late Daniel Pearl have established a foundation “to promote tolerance and understanding internationally through journalism, music and dialogue.” What a great cause.
- In a series of articles in 2005, Popular Mechanics did a great job of debunking “truther” theories of 9/11′s causes. My only quibble with this excellent work is that I would prefer to see people stop calling such alternative versions of 9/11 history “conspiracy theories,” since the conventional explanation of events already acknowledges that 9/11 was a conspiracy.
This is the fourth installment of a series of posts with my personal recollections of 9/11, in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the catastrophe.
The 9/11 attacks were only the beginning of perhaps the most difficult chapter in the long history of The Wall Street Journal.
Our headquarters was still standing, but it was strewn with glass and debris, some of it including asbestos and other toxic materials that were in use in the early ‘70s when the World Trade Center was built. A proper clean-up would take about nine months, during which most of the staff ended up working in a temporary space in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood.
The location was fashionable, but the space was cramped and, in some cases, staff members’ commutes got a lot longer. Mine was about the same in duration, but the route changed such that I now took a train every morning over the Manhattan Bridge. Similar to the Brooklyn Bridge, it offered a vista onto Lower Manhattan, where a steady plume of smoke continued to rise off the nine-story debris pile at Ground Zero. Salvage crews literally couldn’t get to the bottom of the thing quickly, so they just had to let it burn awhile. I saw this twice a day, every weekday, going to and coming from work.
The Journal brought in trauma counselors, who did both individual and group counseling at the temporary offices. Meanwhile, new stresses continued to pile up on top of the normally stressful process of putting out a daily newspaper.
The paper’s profits by now were down from their peak, and the economy was in a recession, making budget cuts and layoffs a distinct possibility. A bizarre string of anonymous mailings of anthrax spores to other big news organizations ensued. To guard against the spread of spores through the air in case of such an envelope being sent to the Journal, security decided that our mail had to be heavily steamed before we could read it. Then we had to open it in a separate room.
Worst of all, al-Qaeda operatives kidnapped and beheaded our correspondent Danny Pearl in early 2002 while he was working on a story about the network in Pakistan. Even for those of us who had met Danny only in passing, as I had, this was a heavy blow. During the short period when he was missing and threatening emails with pictures of him still alive were trickling out from the kidnappers, a lot of us held out hope that they would bluster but ultimately release him. After all, they wanted propaganda, didn’t they? Wasn’t it ultimately in their interests to let Danny go and have him write a splashy front-page story in the Journal about his experience?
All of this was chaotic and stressful, but at least it was a shared experience among colleagues in person. In the days immediately after the attacks, there was more isolation, which was difficult in its own way. The Journal didn’t have a back-up plan in place for such an extraordinary event as 9/11, so it would take about three weeks to get us set up in Soho. In the meantime, most of us just worked from home.
During that stretch, almost every story in the paper, even the ones buried deep on inside pages, had some 9/11 angle to it. No matter what you usually covered as a reporter, you were trying to find and publish whatever you could about the attacks.
As it happened, I was able to obtain from a source who wanted to remain anonymous some fairly detailed phone records for hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi, covering a period of about four months leading up to a few days before the attacks when he was living in Hollywood, Florida. Along with two other reporters, I began calling people he had called to see what they knew, what they remembered of him, et cetera.
The details we found were wrapped into in a front-page story that ran in October 2001, including work from dozens of other Journal correspondents around the world who pieced together a chronology of the hijackers’ daily lives leading up to the attacks.
Al-Shehhi was the roommate of Mohamed Atta, widely considered the operational leader of the 9/11 attacks. On 9/11, Atta was actually at the controls of the first plane to crash at the Trade Center, and al-Shehhi was at the controls of the second plane, the one that confirmed to everyone that what they were witnessing was no accident.
The pre-attack contacts of al-Shehhi’s that we were able to track down were mostly car-rental agencies and realtors, since the hijackers had been moving around South Florida a lot. We also reached their flight school and a couple of other businesses, including AAA. Apparently, al-Shehhi was a member.
Though these men’s crimes were epically monstrous, I think it was the banality of most of what we found that made the story so frightening. The idea that they seemed just like the neighbors next door to most of the people they met, not monsters, was precisely what allowed them to build and carry out their plans in broad daylight.
This is the third installment of a series of posts with my personal recollections of 9/11, in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the catastrophe.
Mark Fichtel, CEO of the New York Board of Trade, speaking to members during a weekend test run of the exchange’s backup facility in Queens prior to resumption of trading on Monday, Sept. 17, 2001. NYBOT would eventually have to find a new permanent home, since its headquarters at 4 WTC was destroyed on 9/11.
Let’s pause to talk a little about the history of mobile computing, a favorite topic of mine these days.
Few people carried digital cameras at all times in 2001. There was no such thing as an iPhone. There were a few basic camera-phones, which were considered state-of-the-art then but would seem primitive to us now. Early versions of the BlackBerry were in use, but they were truly designed for email above all else. Even if you did carry a mobile photo-taking device — probably a standalone camera — there was no Facebook or Twitter to upload pictures to.
It’s difficult to fathom how much richer the record of 9/11 would be if the eyewitnesses had today’s tools at hand. For my own part, I was camera-less on 9/11. But I did finally get around to capturing some images on film with a point-and-shoot on Sept. 17, 2001, when Lower Manhattan re-opened for business.
The New York Stock Exchange and other key institutions on Wall Street, just a short walk from Ground Zero, had been closed for nearly a week while senior officials hammered out logistics and security plans, all while mourning the sudden loss of colleagues. The pressure was sky-high for everything to go off without a hitch.
I made a point of riding the train only to the last stop in Brooklyn, then walking into Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge, essentially retracing the route of my evacuation on 9/11. This was my own small way of re-taking control of daily life, of getting right back on the proverbial horse after falling off. I wanted to prevent myself from subconsciously associating that walk — truly a great New York attraction — with something negative.
That said, I found my hometown had instantly changed in startling ways. To see a slideshow of my photos of the city, click here.
This is the second installment of a series of posts with my personal recollections of 9/11, in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the catastrophe.
For those of us in Lower Manhattan on 9/11 — a day of clear, bright weather — the sun was obscured by the debris cloud from the Twin Towers. The color was akin to a sunset, but in late morning. Photo courtesy of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Truth be told, a lot of New Yorkers didn’t care for the Twin Towers pre-9/11. Many found the buildings architecturally bland or an affront to the grand Empire State Building or whatever.
I always did like them, though, because my tastes formed long before I worried about those other sorts of details. When I was a kid in the early ‘80s, my mother worked as a secretary at a law firm on the 52nd floor of 1 WTC, and I enjoyed it when my father, a bus dispatcher for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, would sometimes drive in from Brooklyn with my sister and me to pick her up. It felt like a little adventure going over the Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan, with the Statue of Liberty off in the distance on the river and the towers and other skyscrapers looming in front of us. I also thought it was cool that anything could be so immense (as the towers were) that I could see it from several miles away at my elementary school in East Flatbush.
My family moved away in 1987 — the city was just too messed up and expensive at that point — and I ended up going to high school and college in Florida. After I graduated with a journalism degree from Florida A&M University, I reported for almost two years on the Virginia suburbs for the Washington Post. Then the Wall Street Journal recruited me away in 1999 to cover commodity markets from their New York headquarters.
The day I went for my job interview, I made a beeline to the WTC observation deck next door when I was done. I figured I might as well take the opportunity to visit — something I hadn’t done in several years at that point — in case I didn’t get the job. But I did indeed get it.
It’s hard to express how fun it was to be a 24-year-old reporter in the big city in the spring of 1999. The dotcom bubble was still on, which made for great copy. Big bonuses were flowing for bankers and analysts on Wall Street from all the stratospherically-priced initial public offerings. At the same time, the Web hadn’t yet wreaked havoc on newspapers’ traditional business model, which meant the Journal’s parent Dow Jones & Co. still had a few quarters of record profit to come.
Translation: Everyone had expense accounts, and we used them.
The tech bubble popped in the spring of 2000, and growth in the broader economy slowed a bit. But Wall Street collectively held out hope that slower growth might be the worst-case outcome, that the economy might still avoid a full-blown recession. This was people’s big worry as of the close of business on Sept. 10, 2001.
The next morning, I woke up at my apartment in the Midwood section of Brooklyn and put on a suit to go to work. I didn’t always dress so formally, but on that particular day, I was scheduled to meet some gold investors for lunch.
My typical commute was a subway ride of about 45 minutes starting at the Kings Highway stop in Brooklyn, through a tunnel below the East River, three stops into Lower Manhattan, exiting right under the Twin Towers, which were part of a larger office complex. The sub-level of the towers was a regional transit hub and busy retail area, just a few minutes’ walk from the Journal’s offices via a series of stairs and covered crossings connecting the buildings. In the winter, I didn’t even have to go outside to get from the subway to my desk.
On 9/11, the plane crashes at WTC happened while I was on the subway, first at the North Tower at 8:46, then at the South Tower a little after 9. I must have been on one of the last trains to make it in to Lower Manhattan, though in this case the train didn’t continue all the way to WTC as usual. Instead the conductor stopped at the Whitehall Street station, below a historic federal courthouse, and announced he couldn’t go any further because a plane had hit the towers. This was the first I had heard of it.
I thought it was probably an accident, maybe involving a single small plane.
When I went up to the street, the towers were afire a few blocks away but hadn’t collapsed yet. There was so much smoke going up to the sky, I couldn’t tell if one or both buildings were on fire. But the idea of a small crash instantly began to fade away as a possibility.
I was standing on Broadway, still close to the courthouse. Most people in the area were a little dazed and nervous. I saw only a few who were downright hysterical.
When the first tower collapsed a short time later, a dark wave of ash and dust came rolling through the street, setting off a real-life scene uncannily like the one in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Indiana Jones runs from a big boulder.
One key exception: This version had way more people involved. As frightening as the cloud itself was, I was more afraid of getting trampled by people fleeing it. I stepped up into one of the arched side entrances to the courthouse to let people go by, then noticed as the acrid dust started to clear a bit that a building across the street with a large lobby was allowing people to come in and take shelter from whatever this terrible thing was. We still weren’t sure.
Inside the building, which I found was operated by my father’s old employers the MTA, details about the attacks began to circulate via word of mouth. Some people had text-messaging devices, so they were getting information from the outside world. I was skeptical of what I was hearing at first, thinking it might be getting exaggerated as it circulated in a proverbial game of telephone.
In particular, I couldn’t believe the towers were gone altogether. It was obvious they were badly damaged. But gone? Those buildings that had been there all my life, since I was a boy daydreaming through the schoolhouse window? Impossible. Even after seeing that scary dust cloud, I told myself it must have been debris from the plane alone, maybe a big jet, not the final destruction of the towers.
Anyway, I was still a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and this situation was clearly news. I began interviewing people waiting in the lobby with me and taking down other observations of my own, collecting what journalists call “color,” or small details illustrating the human interest within a broader story.
In part, the memo I filed for the Journal from home later in the day read:
The mood in the transit building stayed relatively calm… Security guards and the convenience store in the lobby handed out water for free and paper face masks like those worn by house painters…
Around 11 a.m., police directed people from the transit building, and throughout lower Manhattan, to make their way toward the Brooklyn Bridge, normally about a 20-minute walk across the streets of the southern tip of the island.
Along the way, it was unusually quiet, mostly because vehicular traffic had been cut off to just a trickle of a few emergency vehicles occasionally blaring by with the sirens on. People plodded slowly in one direction through a thick haze of dust, the sun shining through it in a bright red haze, as if it were setting. At a bodega, bouquets of sunflowers and red roses set out for sale on the sidewalk were rendered utterly drab, covered in a thick coat of grayish brown dust.
Walking over the bridge, which normally offers one of the most spectacular views of the downtown, someone who had been stuck for hours amid the confusion without seeing televised reports could for the first time begin to get a full sense of what had happened. An immense black cloud stood where the Twin Towers normally would and wafted toward Brooklyn…
The scene once we left the building was apocalyptic. From our vantage point, we’d missed a lot of the bloodiest sights that you’ve probably seen reported elsewhere. But I’d say the overall sense of destruction and dread was just as keen.
When I got up on the Brooklyn Bridge and could see with my own eyes that panorama of the site we would henceforth call Ground Zero, I realized that what I’d heard earlier was true. The towers were indeed gone.
I was leaving, not entering, Manhattan via the bridge this time, and this grown-up adventure was no fun at all.
I walked most of the way home through Brooklyn, all the way to Albemarle Street, where I finally caught a yellow cab. I think I tipped the driver 100% when I got to my apartment building.
By then, the next day’s Journal was being pulled together in the most ad-hoc way possible. Several quick-thinking senior editors had taken a ferry to Princeton, New Jersey, after the initial impact and set up a command center there at the offices of the Journal’s sister news outlet, Dow Jones Newswires. Reporters in Chicago, Washington, and other out-of-town bureaus sprang to action. Once all those journalists finished their work, they beamed the paper to regional printing presses via satellite, which was the normal procedure anyway for the Journal as a national publication. Unlike a lot of metro newspapers, including the New York Times during that era, we didn’t maintain printing presses at headquarters.
We got the paper out for readers to pick up at the newsstand the morning of Sept. 12, despite two plane crashes next door to our headquarters. For this, the staff of the Journal as a group was later awarded the Pulitzer Prize for breaking-news reporting.
We were trying to be constant at a time when the world seemed to be turning upside-down. It took a few anxious days to account for everyone from Dow Jones, but we were ultimately relieved to discover that we hadn’t lost anyone. The closest call involved a well-respected news editor who immediately had a serious reaction from exposure to the debris cloud. He was hospitalized for a good stretch of time, but he eventually pulled through and returned to work with the rest of us.
This is the first installment of a series of posts with my personal recollections of 9/11, in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the catastrophe.
Perhaps the greatest measure of the otherwise unfathomable tragedy and consequence of 9/11 is how difficult it is to imagine a world in which the attacks never happened.
Think of a world in which the United States isn’t at war anywhere. Gasoline costs $1.56 a gallon. You aren’t subjected to daily inconveniences intended to make you safer, some of which have questionable effectiveness and all of which serve to unsettle you just a bit as reminders of lurking danger. Prolonged “security theater” at the airport. Police or even national guardsmen in public places in big cities wearing heavy armor and carrying high-caliber rifles. Metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs at sporting events. Cameras mounted everywhere.
Of course, this world isn’t 100% safe. But when someone commits serious violence against Americans, he’s promptly arrested, tried and convicted in an open federal court close to the scene of the crime. He has a lawyer throughout the process.
Danny Pearl is a great but mostly anonymous newspaper reporter. Four World Trade Center is just another almost-famous address where Eddie Murphy once made a movie. Politicians wear flag pins on their lapels at parades, but that’s about it. No one makes a big deal of it or questions their patriotism.
Of course, this is a world a lot of us can indeed remember. But it seems so far away, doesn’t it? Like it was 20 or 50 years ago instead of just 10. In a sense, we’re really not much better off than the generations who were either unborn or so young on 9/11 that they barely remember it. The old way of life has become an abstraction to all of us, one way or another.
Some people will tell you that pre-9/11 world is worth keeping in mind as something to aspire to now. Some will tell you it’s a just a baseline to measure how close you are to naivete, that we can never really go back. I tend to lean closer to the first group’s thinking, though we obviously can’t undo 9/11 itself at this point. I think we just have to find a better way to deal with it, even now. That quest still isn’t complete.
• • • •
A few months or maybe a year before 9/11 — I forget the exact date — I had lunch with Fred Varacchi at Windows on the World, the gleaming restaurant at the top of the 110-story tower known as 1 World Trade Center. Fred was president of eSpeed, an electronic-trading platform owned by Cantor Fitzgerald, whose headquarters were on the 101st through 105th floor of 1 WTC. I was a young reporter at the Wall Street Journal, whose headquarters were next door at 1 World Financial Center.
We met at Fred’s office and headed upstairs to the restaurant along with his head of public relations. Looking over the sunny, breathtakingly panoramic view of the New York suburbs from our table, Fred remarked that he could see the town where he lived with his family and the route he drove to work everyday.
As someone who regularly took the subway in from Brooklyn, I was struck that he traveled by car to work. That sort of commute is common in most parts of the country but often a big hassle in the congestion of New York City. To this day, I’ve never owned a car in New York, let alone driven one to work.
“Where do you park?” I asked.
“In the garage under the Twin Towers,” he replied.
This surprised me a little as well. I thought the garage had been closed off after Al-Qaeda planted a truck bomb there in 1993. That incident claimed “only” six lives but was plenty scary at the time.
Indeed, Fred informed me, they’d rebuilt and re-opened the garage, increased security a bit, and it was once more a very handy place to park.
What sticks in my mind now is how nonchalant the tone of this conversation was, not tinged with the slightest fear of another attack. After all, it had been six or seven years since the ’93 bombing. I was just a high-school student watching on CNN at the time of that incident, and I’m pretty sure Fred wasn’t working at WTC then. Ancient history, we thought.
Of course, it wasn’t really. On 9/11, Cantor Fitzgerald’s offices were hit almost point-blank by American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to crash at WTC. People were utterly unsuspecting at that point; most were sitting at their desks thinking they were in for a routine day at the office. As a result, Cantor lost 658 employees — more than the New York police and fire departments combined.
Fred and his PR guy, whose name I unfortunately can’t recall at this point, were among those who perished. The staff on duty at Windows on the World, presumably including many of the people who served us during that care-free business lunch, were trapped on the upper floors above the initial fireball. The restaurant lost 72 employees.
I was on the subway, on the way to work and very much unsuspecting as well. When I exited just a few blocks from Ground Zero, the scene was manic and I learned of this attack from bystanders and my own eyes, not CNN.
Since then, not a day goes by that I don’t think of some aspect of 9/11. Very often, I specifically think of that breezy conversation with Fred. The memory somehow seems vivid and long ago, all at once.