For The Michigan Daily’s paper on Sept. 12, 2001, Geoffrey Gagnon, then-editor in chief of the Daily, was originally planning to run a lead news story about a student-athlete who had been accused of sexual assault. Needless to say, there was a different lead story that day.
When Gagnon’s roommate woke him up on the morning of 9/11 to tell him a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, Gagnon knew immediately where he needed to be — the Daily newsroom.
“Pretty much everyone on staff just kind of flooded into the Daily,” Gagnon said. “There was a sense that that was a place where people were trying to make sense of what was going on.”
Gagnon recalled the camaraderie felt among Daily staff members as they tried to make sense of the tragedy while watching the aftermath of the attacks on television.
“We didn’t know what we were watching, and we certainly didn’t know how it was going to impact the University of Michigan, but we figured that was the place we all wanted to be, and we wanted to figure it out together,” he said.
Gagnon said the major challenge for him and other Daily staff members that day was determining how the campus newspaper would respond to the tragedy.
“We all were trying to figure out what should be reflected in the campus newspaper … there were no obvious answers,” Gagnon said. “It was a strange afternoon — one in which we didn’t have a good playbook on what to do.”
Many staff members were engaged in passionate debates regarding the content in the paper for the next day, Gagnon said, adding that an editorial board meeting was particularly heated.
“Everyone was fully engaged in a way I had never seen before,” Gagnon said. “It’s one of those instances where you know you have to say something, but you don’t know what it is that you really have to say.”
Newsweek reported on the experiences of Gagnon and other University students in a November 2001 article titled “Generation 9-11.” Gagnon — currently a senior editor at The Atlantic — said it was because of the experience of interacting with Newsweek editors that he eventually decided to pursue a career in journalism — a path he was hesitant to pursue despite his position at the Daily.
When Newsweek editors inquired about his future career plans, Gagnon said he wasn’t interested in working in journalism. However the persistent editors convinced him otherwise and offered him a position as an intern with the company, which eventually helped to launch his career as a magazine writer.
“I wouldn’t have done that had I not had that experience with those folks,” Gagnon said. “Explaining to them how it is that we tried to make sense of things here … it also helped convince me that doing that type of work is really gratifying and valuable, and it’s something that I thought I wanted to do.”