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Chris Slatter

My Blog




I was in the newsroom of Associated Press Television News when a young female
colleague drew my attention to a television monitor on her desk. It showed a modern skyscraper with smoke trailing from an upper floor. She told me that a plane had apparently crashed into the building in New York, though there was no evidence of a plane, just what appeared to be severe damage to the building. We speculated on the causes of what seemed to be a tragic accident: a plane that had suffered mechanical failure perhaps. A bulletin editor, one of the people responsible for sending out news items came over and mentioned that a client had messaged him to ask if we would be covering the event. As we all watched another passenger jet appeared at the edge of the screen and flew into a second building right next to the first one.
These pictures were coming live to APTN from the ABC in New York. APTN along with Reuters are the two main news agencies that disseminate print and television footage to media outlets around the world. If you watched any of the television coverage of the event now known as 9/11 or the Twin Towers, that’s where it came from.
As a news producer working for APTN it was my job along with several others to
send out these pictures in digestible lengths to our clients. Stories are usually assembled in some sort of narrative allowing the broadcasters to quickly edit them down to the length they need them for their news bulletins. We were working on tape – now it’s digital – so each item of around 4 or 5 minutes had to be first recorded from the live feed coming from New York before the tape was ripped from the recording machine and run around to the edit booth where the individual stories were put together. Usually you get 15 minutes or so to assemble an edit, on the 11th September 2001, we were editing in something approaching real time. That’s a 4 minute story edited in less than 5 minutes. And that was my job.
People often ask how news journalists – cameramen and reporters – can stay uninvolved with the stories they are covering. In part this is because journalists have to be unbiased, another reason is that after a time you become inured to it all. I remember seeing pictures, what’s known as a raw feed, of the aftermath of a suicide bombing in Israel.  The female bomber and her victims had been butchered by the explosives she had been carrying. You learn pretty soon to switch off your horror reflex, or you leave the business.
As I edited scene after scene of horror and destruction, a process that was to continue non-stop for 8 or 9 hours, I did not pause to consider anything apart from doing my job. But one sequence stopped me and in the 10 years that have gone by I haven’t been able to rid my mind of it. The shot started out as a wide angle of one of the twin towers and then slowly zoomed in on the top stories. As the resolution improved you could see what looked like leaves swirling around the building, and then as the picture got closer the leaves resolved themselves into people. These were the dozens of office workers who chose to leap rather than be burnt alive. I couldn’t imagine the desperate plight that would make people do that, but I knew it took enormous courage.
I continued working until I was relieved by another editor and then went home.  I knew I had taken part in an historic moment, but I had no idea how to assimilate the memories and I still don’t.

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About Me

I have been an advertising copywriter, film director, teacher of screenwriting and a television producer. I have worked for some of the world's largest advertising agencies in Australia and the UK before attending the London Film School for two years.

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