This was supposed to be a farewell column. I will hand the SPJ Presidency to Al Cross on Oct. 6, and for months I had thought about how I would write my final president’s column. Would I focus on membership initiatives? Maybe I would write about how SPJ has been in the news more in the last year than in any recent year in memory. Maybe I would write about how our Legal Defense fund came to the aid of people who fought injustices in journalism – and won. I could easily write about how proud I am to have served all of you in what has been the highlight of my journalism career. While SPJ has been an important part of my life for 17 years, and while this organization is an important part of all of you, I don’t seem to have a farewell column in me. Not after Sept. 11. I supposed I could write about how the media has done an exemplary job of sticking to the tenets of SPJ’s Code of Ethics while reporting this horrific story. But as I sit here in my office, I’m distracted by television’s coverage of the candlelight vigils in New York and Boston and Somerset, Pa. I’m distracted by what seems to be the never-ending, sickening footage of a jet-plane-turned-bomb slamming into the twin towers. Every now and then, when I think I have a column to write, I’m distracted by the wails of anger and anguish. I’m distracted because here at work, I’m in the midst of planning another newspaper that will, in great detail, tell readers about the carnage. I’m distracted because I can’t seem to come up with an easy answer for my family members, especially the children, who wonder why someone would take glee in such a slaughter. I grew up in New York City, in the Bronx, and have been to the twin towers dozens of times. The weekend following the blast, I made several phone calls to family and friends in the city to make sure everyone was alright. I have not been able to get through to everyone, including people I know who work in lower Manhatten. Whatever pain I feel by this uncertainty can’t compare to the agony felt by all of the mothers and wives and children of those buried in that rubble. I suppose that after a very long time, things will get back to some semblance of normalcy. There’s talk from politicians that Americans may have to live with the restrictions of heightened safety precautions at airports, stadiums and other places of public gatherings. Maybe I could write about how the government needs to track down these criminals without trampling on the First Amendment and the other freedoms we cherish so much. But I don’t have that in me, either. Not after just watching that plane slam into the south tower for the 100th time. Journalists are incredibly dedicated professionals who go to extraordinary lengths to do their jobs fairly and accurately. All across the country, print newsrooms have become 24-hour operations while the same television and radio anchors seem to be on air continuously. So I guess that brings me to the one thing I can write about. In doing our jobs, we must remember to take care of ourselves. I would bet many of us have not had a chance to think about what all this really means and how this attack has changed our country in ways we can’t imagine. How many of us have really had a chance to sit down with our children and have long, regular talks with them and answer their questions? How many of us have had a chance to cry? I know I haven’t. I should. So should you.
Ray Marcano is president of SPJ and assistant managing editor for production at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News.