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The Wall Street Journal was at tragedy’s epicenter

SHARE The Wall Street Journal was at tragedy’s epicenter

NEW YORK — While other news outlets scrambled to cover the World Trade Center collapse from a distance, The Wall Street Journal found itself at the epicenter.

First, staffers at the newspaper's headquarters four blocks from the twin towers had to run for their lives. Then they had to put out a paper — with news about the human impact of the disaster, not the usual territory of the nation's largest business news publication.

Producing any kind of paper at all proved to be a feat of logistical coordination between reporters working at home via e-mail, production staff evacuated to a technical plant in South Brunswick, N.J., and top editors working from yet another office in midtown Manhattan.

"We had just enough people to get it done," said Jim Pensiero, an assistant managing editor for administration who wound up taking charge of the makeshift newsroom in New Jersey. The facility is also a temporary headquarters for the paper and its parent company, Dow Jones & Co.

That location, which houses the printing plant for the New York area, had been prepared as a backup operations center.

Steven Goldstein, a spokesman for Dow Jones, said staffers were arriving at the New Jersey campus by buses from ferry terminals and train stations, but many reporters continued to work from home, filing their stories electronically. He said there was no word of injuries among the staff.

Goldstein said the company would likely be based there at least several weeks until engineers say the headquarters building at 200 Liberty Street is safe. "There's an enormous amount of debris in there, especially in the newsroom," he said.

On Tuesday night, editors closed the paper just one hour past its normal deadline, Pensiero said. In the end, only 150,000 copies of the paper's print run of 2 million didn't reach subscribers, he said.

Editors revised the usual format on the front page to include a full six-column banner headline for only the third time in the paper's history, after Pearl Harbor and the first day of the Persian Gulf War.

The front page included a first-person account by foreign editor John Bussey, who witnessed the collapse and then gave a report by phone to CNBC before diving under a desk as debris rained through the newsroom.

He compared the scene on the street to Pompeii after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and described the "puffs of pink and red vapor" left after the bodies of people who had jumped from the World Trade Center smashed into the ground.

The paper's editorial page, which was mainly assembled in the basement of editor Robert Bartley's home in Brooklyn, also included several first-person accounts of the disaster.

Pensiero said the paper's editors and reporters had little choice but to cover the drama literally happening before their eyes.

"This was a once in a lifetime catastrophe," Pensiero said. "We as human beings were stunned; we as human beings had to cover the story. Our focus is as a business and finance paper, but that doesn't mean we check our humanity at the door.

"It was a horrific scene, and I'm glad I survived it," Pensiero said. "But then we had to put out a paper."