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Tragic events taught student journalists how to tell the news

Sept. 11, 2003

By Lacy

Elwood, columnist

You never know when the skills you learn in class have actually transmitted themselves into your brain until they hit you full force. I've been training to be a journalist since my sophomore year of high school and trust me, I've heard plenty of lectures on interviewing under pressure, covering crises and dashing off stories in half an hour.

I've heard it all, but I never really sure I'd ever get the chance to practice it. My opportunity came two years ago, when I absolutely least expected it.

We all have a story about Sept. 11, 2001. This is mine.

I woke up late, as usual. I tend to be a workaholic and never get to bed exactly when I plan, often sleeping just a little too late. I rushed off a shower, got dressed and ate my breakfast on my walk to class, just like every other day.

I was a sophomore, in Dr. Curry's Political Science 2302 class, and we had a big test that morning. That was the only thing on my mind. One of my closest friends, Dave, was the first to tell me what had happened less than a hour before.

My life has always been defined by words. The moments I remember most are always associated with phrases, questions and quotes. Dave's words were simple, 'Have you seen the news?'

The news is my life and so, upon completing that political science test in record speed, I dashed off to the Bill Daniel Student Center. I saw the video footage with hundreds of my peers and I turned on my heel, running straight to the newsroom. All of those lectures I had sat through were finally going to come to use and my stomach turned at the thought of the terrible event that was going to be my ultimate teacher. I've never heard the Lariat newsroom so quiet. We all had a job to do, but we didn't really want to do it. We wanted to go home, we wanted to sit with friends and family, we wanted to watch our media peers cover the action.

But, we're journalists, and we're journalists for a reason. We've all come into this career field knowing that we're the ones who have been blessed with an amazing ability to think fast on our feet. As much as our hearts told us we wanted to go home and cry, our gut instinct told us to make our phone calls, to talk to students, to record people's emotions.

We were sent out on assignment. Mine was Fort Hood, where I was to try to find out what safety precautions they were taking. I was surrounded by half a dozen local reporters and I was scared.

I had been training for this moment for years and I surprised myself by how calm I was, how eloquent my questions were and by how I managed to complete my assignment efficiently. I was finally a journalist, but my heart was hurting.

It's not an easy job to write the news. You see everything that the rest of the world tries to ignore. You get the crying family members, you get the scared students, you get the screaming dissenters.

I know that our entire generation will not forget the events of Sept. 11, but that day will hold a double meaning for me. I cried and prayed and asked 'why' alongside everyone else, but I also learned one of the greatest lessons.

I learned to take the words that define my moments and turn them into words that define others' moments. I learned, simply, what it really means to tell the news.