As soon as Hayley Harding, president of the Ohio University chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, stepped up to speak in the packed lecture hall on OU’s campus, the room knew they were in for something not like anything they had seen before.
David Handschuh was one of the first photojournalists on the scene of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He lost friends, colleagues and competitors as well as suffering personal injury himself when part of the first tower fell. “I’m just a guy with a camera that was too stupid to run away,” he said. Handschuh has won numerous awards for the photos he took that day, but not a Pulitzer. “My one and only chance for a Pulitzer, and I blew it. I was about a half second late,” he smiled.
|The Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 as shot by David Handschuh.|
Handschuh shared with us his personal journey that morning, from when he woke up, to when he was sent to the hospital. He reminisced over the start to his day –discussing his outfit choice with his wife before heading out to teach a class- and to the silent hall he told them about when he first saw the rubble of the World Trade Center from the safety of Ellis Island. “I thought I saw piles of rubble where the trade centers had been, but that’s just not possible,” he said.
Handschuh also had a strong message for journalists, telling them that journalism will take a toll physically and emotionally, and those who cannot deal with that should find a different career choice. He spoke about after he returned to work, and the counselling he received for the trauma of seeing so much devastation. “When I asked for counselling they asked ‘why would you want that?” he said.
He also showed a video which contained audio from police scanners and 911 calls as well as photos from that day. When the video ended, there was not a dry eye in the room. Handschuh’s powerful storytelling, compelling images and the horrendous reality of the day combined together created a time of mourning, learning and coming together that not many other stories can do.
“Wonderful practitioners (of journalism) toss away safety, they have a sense of invulnerability. I have a press badge, nothing can happen –Bull!” he told the crowd. “You have to open yourself up, to let yourself feel what your subjects are feeling, and only then do you have the right to tell their stories. A phone or laptop used by a journalist should be labelled like a cigarette: caution, may cause emotional injury.
Journalists and rescue workers as well as victims of that day still suffer from numerous health conditions, and some are dying from them. Handschuh told the crowd that being a journalists will always result in emotional harm, from working the homicide beat to larger tragedies such as 9/11, there will be a story, and there will be journalists. “Be there for your fellow journalists. Who else knows what being on the scene like that is like?” he asked.
Handschuh ended his talk by asking the audience for questions, of which there were none.