September 11th: A working tech journalist doesn’t forget

aftermath of Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks
September 11, 2001 affected many aspects of people's lives. FierceElectronics editor Spencer Chin recalls how the day affected his life as a technical and business journalist. (Pixabay)

On the 18th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, many people, particularly friends and relatives of the thousands who lost their lives, are again reflecting on the painful memories of that day.

As a longtime journalist covering technology and business subjects, that day was one I remember as answering my calling as a journalist to report on the aftermath of the events, as they affected the electronics industry.

I am a lifelong New York City resident, so the events hit home close to me. While I did not personally know of anyone who lost their life in the attacks, I do have a cousin who worked in one of the World Trade Center towers who happened to be out sick that day. Call it fate or God’s will, but he is still with us, alive and well.

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At that time, I was working with a weekly print/daily online brand that focused on the business and supply-chain aspects of the electronics industry. The corporate office I worked in was in a suburb neighboring New York City, about 20 miles from the Trade Center towers. One of my fellow editors alerted me of the initial attack, which at first, I did not take seriously as I recall being immersed in another project.

But as events unfolded, my office became abuzz with activity. Many of us immediately checked with our loved ones. I checked on my parents who lived nearby as my father was undergoing colon cancer treatment at the time (he would pass away seven months later); they were okay. The magnitude of the tragedy was starting to be felt, enough so that our publication’s parent company told everyone they could go home if they wished. This was the case for most of the businesses in the area, as by mid to late morning the main road outside my office was packed with traffic from workers trying to scurry home.

For our editorial staff, however, the day’s work was just beginning. None of us left, not right away, and in my case not until the end of the day.

My editor-in-chief at the time had already come down from his Boston area home for meetings in the corporate office, and he wound up being stuck in the New York City area for days because the airlines were out. So it was a bit easier to coordinate planning with him in New York. Fortunately, our phone lines still worked, so a meeting involving our corporate office-based and remote editorial staff was held. After some discussion, we decided to focus the next weekly print issue on covering the effects of the attacks on the electronics industry. That entailed a number of aspects, for instance, how semiconductor fabs were affected, and how logistics and shipping companies involved in moving electronics goods would have to revise operations. More important would be the near- and long-term effects on the business and psyche of the electronics industry, which was at the time already experiencing a downturn after the dotcom boom (remember that?) became a bust.

When I drove home later that day, the scene was surreal: normally packed highways were practically empty as everyone had left early. I could see in the far horizon the smoke still emanating from the Trade Center towers. That smoke would be billowing for months.

While I don’t remember many details of the several days that followed, I do recall talking to several suppliers in the electronic components sector, one of the beats I covered at the time. The people I interviewed were obviously shaken by the events but trying their best to conduct daily business as close to normal as possible. Most were cooperative in sharing their thoughts and opinions at a very difficult time.

By the time we finished producing the print publication Friday morning, we were a group of exhausted editors who took solace in the fact that we put our emotions aside to report on how a difficult series of events affected the industry we covered on a daily basis, from both a business and human side. Management took note and was proud of our efforts.

While the heartbreak associated with September 11, 2001 will never go away, I hope the words I used to discuss the aftermath and implications of the event helped at least a few people make sense of what occurred. - Spencer

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