7 Years Later: Looking Back on 9/11

The Democrat Gazette's extra edition

The Democrat Gazette

Today is the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which brought down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, slammed an airplane into the side of the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and crashed another airplane into field in Pennsylvania.

Those events killed about 3,000 people and led directly to the two wars the United States is still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have brought thousands more deaths.

There will be all manner of observances today. Barack Obama and John McCain will be in New York City at Ground Zero, and President Bush will go to the Pentagon to dedicate the latest memorial to those killed in the attacks.

It goes without saying that the terrorist attacks had an immeasurable effect on all aspects of our politics and culture. As a journalist, I’m particularly interested on how it affected the news business. You’ll remember that in the summer leading up to the attacks, the mainstream media was largely focus on more sensational fare — those shark attacks off the east coast, the disappearance of Chandra Levy — and the attacks, at least for a while, snapped press coverage back to more important matters.

It also had a profound effect on online news. Sept. 11, 2001 is widely regarded as the day online news came of age, and the Web “grew up,” allowing people to get up-to-the-second breaking news and to connect with others around the world. This was the first time many major online news operations had to put up special, lightweight versions of their pages, as traffic overwhelmed them.

Today, many of those online, breaking news pages on the attacks are archived on the Web in places like this and this.

At Google, which then was slowly on its way to becoming the search giant it is now, Sept. 11, 2001 planted the seed that would eventually become Google News. Krishna Bharat, a 31-year-old software engineer for the company, began to conceive of the now-popular online news aggregator as he, like millions of others, searched the Web furiously that day for any news he could find. A solution to searches like that and others, Google News, launched in beta in April 2002.

CNN, on 9-11

CNN, on 9-11

ArkansasBusiness.com wasn’t even two years old yet when Sept. 11 dawned in Arkansas. I remember we threw ourselves into online coverage, and there was lots to cover. Unfortunately, we don’t have screenshots of the site from that day, nor does the Internet Archive, But the stories remain.

With the FAA grounding planes, 24 jets were stuck at Little Rock’s Adams Field, leaving about 1,000 people to fill local hotels, and workers emptied the city’s tallest buildings, fearing more attacks. In Jacksonville, the Little Rock Air Force Base was put on its highest security level. Two malls closed, the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University canceled games and the Matchbox Twenty show at Alltel Arena was canceled.

Wal-Mart began offering aid, and urged its employees to be friendlier during those trying times.

Gov. Mike Huckabee addressed the state, offered help and warned against any price gouging, as gasoline prices at some stores soared to illogical heights. Meanwhile, former White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty gave ArkansasBusiness.com an inside glimpse at what might be happening in the Bush White House, and compared the attack to Pearl Habor.

And we reported that a group from Arkansas led by investment adviser Mary Ann Greenwood, had been in the World Trade Center that morning, but fled in time to see the second plant hit. They were safe.

That next week, everyone began trying to put it all in perspective. ArkansasBusiness.com sought comment from Little Rock financier Warren Stephens as the stock market, closed since the previous Tuesday, re-opened.

Up the street from us, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was preparing an special “extra” edition, which many other newspapers around the country compiled that day. You can see a PDF of the full extra edition here, and other 9/11 front pages are compiled here and here. (A Library of Congress archive of other Web pages from 9/11 is available here.)

(Note: Another verison of this post appears on my “Ladder” blog at ArkansasBusiness.com.)


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