Life out here by Bret Kofford: Doing our duty

September 12, 2001

Sadly, in the newspaper business, the bad times are our times.

We try our best to tell nice stories, happy stories, and we do so as often as possible, but our times to be remembered often come during the worst of tragedies.

Yes, Americans in this age turn to television first to get the breaking news and the images, but TV, plagued by assumptions, half-baked reporting and dramatic graphics coinciding every few minutes with timpani-based music and a deep-voiced man saying "America Under Attack" or "Terror in Metropolis," runs thin pretty quickly. Within minutes television broadcasts are repeating footage and talking to non-experts and non-witnesses.

People look for more from newspapers. We are something tangible, something they can hold in their hands and keep forever. Our circulation people at the Press said our papers were flying off the racks Tuesday, starting at noon and continuing throughout the afternoon and evening. People wanted that paper for today, and for posterity.


More than that, we are something people can depend on for more than flash, bang and good hairdos. We are obligated in these times to provide the substance and depth the broadcast media doesn't. Broadcast provides the immediacy. We provide the brains, the thought.

I have worked at big papers, small papers and medium-sized ones like this. The same thing happens at each place when all hell breaks loose. It happened when the Challenger went down, when the earthquakes hit the Bay Area, when the Murrah building blew up in Oklahoma City, when the bombs went off in New York and Washington on Tuesday.

What we do is we get going, start buzzing, because this is one reason many of us went into the business in the first place. We want to be part of it, whatever and whenever it is.

Our jobs at the newspaper are rarely boring, but in these times, it's, well … "exciting" probably is not a good word. "Captivating" comes immediately to mind, but that doesn't fully capture it, either. There is more gravity to it.

Teamwork is paramount at newspapers, and it always comes together best under such circumstances. You have hot dogs and nincompoops in all newsrooms who either bail out or don't tune in during crises, but they are few and are soon out of the business because their true mettle has been revealed, to themselves and to their colleagues

During such disasters, we at newspapers deal with confusing reports and unfair deadlines, yet we manage to do things well and right most of the time. Our people here at the Press care about providing that service to the best of our capabilities and beyond. Folks feel the same way at every other newspaper as far as I know.

Our staff quickly decided Tuesday morning to add four news pages to that afternoon's edition, to allow us more room to cover the attacks. We made that decision even though the paper had to be on the streets within four hours. We decided to do one edition for the streets and another for home delivery, and that decision was reinforced as the right one after President Bush made his speech and other news broke locally and beyond. We next decided, minutes later, to do the special edition you have today.

It all went well, went smoothly, because we were on a mission. We are newspaper people. You might not want us in your fashion show, but you do need us in these times. We might be surly and ink- and ketchup-stained, but we care about what we do and we care about the world.

Any decent human being hates killings of innocent people, and people in a newsroom are not immune from those feelings. Jaded, maybe; immune, no.

Although it is easy to label people in the media, particularly at newspapers, as "liberals" and "elites," I can tell you in this newsroom there were probably as many vengeful feelings per capita as anywhere in the country. The same was true after the Oklahoma City bombing, and that intensified when we at the newspaper found out there was a day-care center in the building. Most of us want anyone who would kill hundreds or thousands of people to pay in the harshest terms.

Yet it would be a lie if I didn't say my adrenaline was running throughout Tuesday, that I wasn't on a high. Things like the coverage of the Zodiac killer, the SLA and the Dan White killings, reported richly in the good old Oakland Tribune, are what turned me on to newspapers when I was a teen.

I felt better about things back then because that newspaper and other papers such as the San Francisco Chronicle were trying their best to let me know what I needed to know to be a good citizen in a great country.

That's what we try to do here.

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles