As it happens, it was just a couple of weeks ago when I was resurrecting memorabilia from the basement to decorate my new office walls that I came across a framed front page of the Calgary Herald's Sept. 11, 2001 Extra Edition.
And it dawned on me what—in a mere 10 years—a precious relic that has become. My framed copies are now, without a shadow of a doubt, among the last "Extra" editions of newspapers that will ever be produced. Oh, sure, so long as newspapers continue to exist—most won't, some will—they will have special editions to mark big events such as Royal visits or Stanley Cup victories. But the idea of an Extra—an edition of the newspaper published in addition to its regular press runs—has now been completely overrun by our dependence on the internet for immediate news. And the internet via computer or, increasingly, mobile devices, has also quickly evolved to duplicate not just the "breaking news" capacity that was once television's bread and butter but now also has the ability (admittedly in the midst of a lot of other nonsense) to provide context and meaning to events.
I mention the latter because on Sept. 11, 2001, when I was editor in chief of the Calgary Herald, I was never more proud to be a newspaperman.
My assistant had called me at home shortly before 7 a.m. Mountain time that morning and just said "Peter, turn on the TV." Shortly thereafter I was out the door, unshaven or showered and on the way to the Herald. Within two hours, the decision to publish the first Extra since the end of the Second World War had been made. And, for the record, the idea did not come from senior management but from a pressman who dropped by to simply say something like "we're all cleaned up from last night and the boys are ready to go."
By noon, a single section 8-page EXTRA (America Under Attack) edition was on those presses and heading out the door and onto the streets of the city and, most effectively, to the airport where the copies were gobbled up by people staring at TV sets that gave them gripping images and live reports. The newspapers, back then, were still aspiring to and being appreciated for their trusted role as the nation's primary providers of depth, context, meaning, and perspective on events, having lost the "breaking news" battle decades before to broadcasters. EXTRA (America Under Attack) was consumed ravenously and as a journalist and editor I experienced a sense of purpose and usefulness unlike anything before or since.
Most remarkable was that EXTRA (America Under Attack) also carried an essay on its back page by Dr. John von Heyking of the University of Lethbridge articulating the differences between acts that are merely rash and those that are inspired by genuine courage. That was one of our trademarks back in the day: intellectual thump.
It also contained commentary from a shaken Herald reporter on the ground in New York who happened to be there to, of all things, cover Fashion Week. No doubt she, too, will recall that day this week.
September 11, 2001 was a terrible day. It will be remembered as the first day of this and the last day of that, as the beginning of the end of this or of that.
All of that will remain open for debate until, eventually, it will be put into its proper context by history and events yet to come. Journalism, on new platforms, will re-emerge.
What is certain, though, is that my copy of the Sept. 11 2001 edition of EXTRA (America Under Attack) is the last great artifact of the era when newspapers roamed the earth like the media equivalent to Tyrannosaurus Rex. Then, we were kings.