It was a privilege to contribute to The Toronto Star’s special coverage of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with a story online now and in print on Saturday.
The idea began about a month ago with a message from Kevin Newman. Back on September 11, 2001, he was days into his new job as chief anchor of the brand new, supper hour newscast Global National. Newman, the main anchor there for ten years, departed in 2010. He handed off to current chief anchor Dawna Friesen, who, on that fateful September 20 years ago, was in Israel as a foreign correspondent for NBC News.
The two have just worked together on a documentary premiering tonight on Global — “Disruption: 20 Years of Global National.”
“It’s the first time we’ve ever worked together on anything,” says Newman, who was executive producer of the project. It goes beyond 9/11 memories to show how the daily news cycle has continued to accelerate through reports of wars, climate change, social unrest and Black Lives Matter rallies, the #metoo movement and a still-with-us pandemic.
Newman’s memories of dealing with the breaking news of an attack on the World Trade Center soon had me tracking down the dean of TV news anchors, CTV’s Lloyd Robertson (still contributing to W5); then CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge, Global’s Friesen, CTV’s current chief anchor Lisa LaFlamme (then two days into her new job as co-host, with Rod Black, of Canada AM) and long-time Citytv news anchor Gord Martineau.
Each shared vivid memories of 9/11, a marathon of coverage they all regarded as the biggest news story they ever covered. That includes Robertson, who was a young CBC newsman on standby duty when he was asked, in November of 1963, to get on the air and read the report that US president John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas and was being rushed to hospital.
What I wrote on that day was a result of watching broadcasters such as Newman, Robertson, Mansbridge, LaFlamme, Martineau and Friesen do their jobs. All deserve tremendous credit for keeping their cool and Canadians calmly informed on such a terrifying and uncertain day. I thank them for taking the time to share their always valued memories and insights. Thanks also to keen-eyed editors Jodi Isenberg and Deb Yeo at The Star for shepherding this story.
Working on this feature also brought back memories for me of working at The Toronto Sun. I was the TV columnist there at the time of 9/11, and like everyone else was thrust into contributing to a rare “Bulldog” afternoon edition of the daily paper. To be part of a news organization on that day — albeit in what the hard news reporters and editors often referred to as the “toy” department (entertainment) — was an unforgettable experience.