Remembering 9/11 with Barney McCoy
As we approach the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans look back on where they were on that tragic day. A University of Nebraska-Lincoln broadcast journalism professor was working as a reporter in Columbus, Ohio on September 11, 2001. When the attacks happened, Barney McCoy and his news crew headed for New York City. In this report, he looks back on that difficult time.
Show notes: Learn more about Barney McCoy at journalism.unl.edu/barney-mccoy.
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[00:00:05.560]20 Years ago, Barney McCoy
[00:00:07.110]was in Columbus, Ohio,
[00:00:08.400]preparing to leave town on assignment
[00:00:10.320]for a local TV station.
[00:00:11.880]That's when McCoy, and a videographer,
[00:00:14.020]see the first reports out of New York city.
[00:00:17.912]We understand that a plane
[00:00:20.140]has crashed into the World Trade Center.
[00:00:21.880]We don't know anything.
[00:00:25.430]We saw the images of a fire
[00:00:29.010]at the World Trade Center.
[00:00:30.230]And the first reports where there's been some type of
[00:00:33.480]a plane that has gone into the World Trade Center.
[00:00:36.640]And that's really all we knew at that point.
[00:00:38.930]So we started driving North and listening to the radio.
[00:00:42.090]And suddenly we find out that this is a terrorist attack.
[00:00:48.010]About halfway to the day's assignment
[00:00:49.820]in Akron, they get a call from the news director
[00:00:52.180]with a change in plans.
[00:00:53.830]Just start driving towards New York City.
[00:00:55.970]We have a satellite truck about an hour behind you.
[00:00:59.130]Do everything you can to try and get there
[00:01:01.010]by 11 o'clock tonight.
[00:01:06.180]11 Hours and 535 miles later.
[00:01:09.640]McCoy is reporting live just miles from the smoldering ruins
[00:01:13.920]of the World Trade Center.
[00:01:15.700]Behind me here,
[00:01:16.533]you can still see the skyline of Manhattan.
[00:01:18.920]It looks like a volcanic cauldron behind me,
[00:01:21.220]the smoke still coming up from that area
[00:01:22.860]that used to be the World Trade Center.
[00:01:25.070]In this episode of Faculty 101,
[00:01:27.020]we hear more about McCoy's experiences
[00:01:29.720]and how he prepares students for the big stories
[00:01:32.500]they'll cover in the future.
[00:01:34.230]Okay, you should switch partners now.
[00:01:35.570]To be able to inspire young people.
[00:01:38.940]Today is your final.
[00:01:39.990]It's really rewarding.
[00:01:41.040]I love the students.
[00:01:43.020]Welcome to Faculty 101.
[00:01:45.250]Life hacks and success stories from Nebraska Faculty.
[00:01:54.040]On September 11th, 2001,
[00:01:56.230]Barney McCoy finds himself reporting
[00:01:58.340]on the worst terrorist attack in US history.
[00:02:01.650]But there's no time to process the gravity of the event.
[00:02:05.130]In the first 24 hours, McCoy checks in with local police,
[00:02:08.610]files reports, sleeps in the car,
[00:02:11.470]even when he and his crew find hotel rooms,
[00:02:14.080]sleep is limited.
[00:02:18.240]In those situations
[00:02:19.560]where you're filing reports on a regular basis
[00:02:21.790]and doing live shots and going out
[00:02:23.290]and gathering information and editing.
[00:02:26.090]Probably averaging four or five hours of sleep a night.
[00:02:29.550]You know, catching a cat nap if you could.
[00:02:32.040]But the other thing is,
[00:02:33.270]is your adrenaline is constantly flowing anyway.
[00:02:36.040]And a lot of it's just because of all the unknowns
[00:02:38.080]and just the sheer magnitude of the event.
[00:02:43.840]Over the course of about a week,
[00:02:45.330]McCoy interviews volunteers and rescue workers,
[00:02:48.190]and find himself at ground zero.
[00:02:50.650]This is it.
[00:02:51.483]This is the place they call the pit.
[00:02:53.640]The place where the World Trade Center collapsed.
[00:02:55.740]Both towers on Tuesday.
[00:02:57.690]And where essential highly emergency and rescue workers
[00:03:00.040]have been spending much of this week.
[00:03:01.870]You get in there, you're just looking.
[00:03:04.638]You're just throwing stuff in the scrap piles.
[00:03:07.630]New York, the city that never sleeps,
[00:03:09.800]is eerily quiet as residents cope with their trauma.
[00:03:13.980]McCoy remembers a woman on the subway.
[00:03:19.720]There was a young woman
[00:03:21.250]who was going back over to the Jersey side and, you know,
[00:03:25.680]and she was composed, you know, we smiled at her and said,
[00:03:29.297]"Hey, how's it going?"
[00:03:30.350]You know, and she just burst into tears.
[00:03:37.750]McCoy sheds a few tears himself
[00:03:39.770]as he and his crew push ahead.
[00:03:42.340]You kind of put your visor down
[00:03:43.920]and you do what you know you're supposed to do.
[00:03:47.550]And every now and then you'll see something
[00:03:49.440]that kind of catches you off guard, and you'll cry.
[00:03:58.290]McCoy is no stranger to breaking news.
[00:04:00.770]In 1981, he was a reporter in Kansas City, Missouri,
[00:04:04.080]when a skywalk collapsed in a hotel lobby,
[00:04:06.690]killing 114 people.
[00:04:09.340]If you're looking for
[00:04:10.440]an Armageddon scenario,
[00:04:11.830]that was certainly what you saw that night
[00:04:13.430]in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency.
[00:04:15.630]He lived nearby
[00:04:16.680]and arrived on the scene quickly.
[00:04:20.130]As far as people surviving,
[00:04:21.800]the people that are in there right now,
[00:04:23.110]it appears to be a very, very grim situation.
[00:04:25.540]The chances are very slim.
[00:04:27.610]And I'll never forget,
[00:04:28.443]I saw this elderly woman in a,
[00:04:32.040]just a cotton print dress who was standing
[00:04:34.570]in the middle of traffic out in front of the hotel in shock.
[00:04:37.600]And I walked up to her, and I noticed
[00:04:41.470]that she had dust all over her face.
[00:04:43.620]I asked her, I said,
[00:04:44.827]"You know, let's get you off the street here.
[00:04:47.700]I'm going to take you over to the side here."
[00:04:49.220]And some other people had started pouring out of the hotel.
[00:04:52.270]I said, "Could you please take care of this,
[00:04:54.640]this woman here? Cause she's in shock."
[00:04:58.360]Inside the building,
[00:04:59.320]McCoy witnessed heroic first responders
[00:05:01.670]searching for survivors in the piles of rubble,
[00:05:04.330]as sparks flew from electrical wires
[00:05:06.830]and water cascaded from broken pipes.
[00:05:12.090]Those images stayed with him.
[00:05:14.370]Even today, McCoy feels strong emotions
[00:05:17.070]when he looks back on that time.
[00:05:19.710]I didn't really realize it at the time,
[00:05:21.880]but, you know, I wasn't the only one, certainly.
[00:05:25.150]But everyone who was there that night
[00:05:28.050]experienced some degree of trauma.
[00:05:30.980]My trauma, I think, as a reporter,
[00:05:32.760]was watching all these things unfold and reporting it
[00:05:36.310]and trying to reconcile that.
[00:05:38.360]And still all these years later,
[00:05:42.700]still feeling helpless about not being able to do enough.
[00:05:50.470]Throughout his career,
[00:05:51.630]McCoy covered stories that make a difference.
[00:05:54.500]He reported from Saudi Arabia,
[00:05:56.200]the launching point of the Gulf War.
[00:05:58.230]He earned an Emmy Award for a story on the courageous battle
[00:06:01.610]of a woman with AIDS, who tragically passed it
[00:06:04.070]to her unborn child.
[00:06:05.740]McCoy's reporting on a World War II Veteran's illness
[00:06:08.770]and death led to profound changes
[00:06:11.220]in the treatment of survivors.
[00:06:13.040]And his wife came to us and she said,
[00:06:14.607]"You know, I found this letter that my husband had gotten."
[00:06:18.243]And he had gotten a medal, a Commendation Medal.
[00:06:21.620]And, but it, this part where it explains
[00:06:23.810]why he got this Commendation Medal has been inked out.
[00:06:27.360]And we found out the reason why, is because he was in
[00:06:29.610]a classified program where he was used as a human guinea pig
[00:06:33.680]for chemical weapons testing by the United States.
[00:06:36.440]Later on, his longterm health effects were,
[00:06:39.690]that were caused by his exposure to these chemical weapons,
[00:06:43.520]were turned down by the Veterans Administration
[00:06:45.850]because he was in a classified project.
[00:06:48.280]And so we were able to get congressional action
[00:06:50.980]and the change in the Veterans Administration
[00:06:52.960]to recognize after the fact that those who had been exposed
[00:06:55.680]to the chemical weapons in the classified testing
[00:06:57.480]in World War II.
[00:06:58.970]That the survivors, or if they were still alive,
[00:07:01.180]would get benefits.
[00:07:03.050]Brittany, your story is...
[00:07:05.470]In his classroom,
[00:07:06.420]McCoy goes over story assignments
[00:07:08.480]with his Broadcast journalism students,
[00:07:10.800]offers scripting advice.
[00:07:13.050]I would probably put this up here.
[00:07:15.487]In other words, the bill was currently...
[00:07:16.760]And helps them prepare for a live TV newscast.
[00:07:19.980]McCoy teaches not only the tools of the trade,
[00:07:22.910]but also how to be a critical thinker in a complex world.
[00:07:27.000]In a social justice class,
[00:07:28.470]students discuss tough subjects like race, gender identity
[00:07:32.180]and climate change.
[00:07:33.410]Issues that have torn the nation apart.
[00:07:36.060]McCoy wants to bridge the divide
[00:07:38.050]through respectful conversation.
[00:07:40.300]We're really trying to teach students
[00:07:42.160]to be open about engaging in dialogue.
[00:07:44.670]So don't point fingers of blame, but talk about,
[00:07:48.927]"Okay, what are the issues that are involved here?
[00:07:53.410]What's the downside?
[00:07:54.750]What are the liabilities?
[00:07:56.100]And can we have conversations where we can disagree
[00:07:59.410]with each other without being at war with each other?"
[00:08:06.110]McCoy also has an impact on teaching
[00:08:08.210]through research he conducts on digital distractions
[00:08:11.010]in the classroom.
[00:08:13.140]Surveys of hundreds of students measure
[00:08:15.340]how often they turn to their phones or other devices
[00:08:18.230]during class to check social media or play games.
[00:08:22.250]About 20% of the time
[00:08:24.630]in a classroom setting, students were distracted
[00:08:27.330]by whatever digital devices they were using,
[00:08:30.330]a laptop computer, a desktop, their smartphone,
[00:08:32.940]whatever it was.
[00:08:34.180]McCoy's research encourages teachers
[00:08:36.150]to find new methods of engaging students
[00:08:38.550]and informs improvements in instructional design
[00:08:41.170]to reduce distraction.
[00:08:42.840]The students that go, "Listen,
[00:08:43.700]I'm just bored of watching Barney McCoy
[00:08:45.380]sit there and lecture all day long."
[00:08:47.240]So Barney McCoy needs to figure out another way
[00:08:49.190]to try and make that lecture more interesting, you know?
[00:08:51.260]So, how can we do that?
[00:08:52.840]Well, we can un-bundle our classes.
[00:08:54.410]We can try and say, "Let's take a look at this.
[00:08:56.460]Now let's move over here and spend five minutes here
[00:08:59.280]Get out your smartphones and Google this,
[00:09:01.360]and let's talk about what we find."
[00:09:02.860]So engaging students, using those same digital devices
[00:09:06.000]that previously they might've been distracted by.
[00:09:13.130]McCoy's creative activity includes producing
[00:09:17.810]But his greatest joy comes from teaching
[00:09:20.370]and watching his students takeover.
[00:09:23.100]I love it when they get to that place
[00:09:24.570]where it's like, "Hey McCoy, get out of the way.
[00:09:26.410]We're busy working on a newscast."
[00:09:27.870]It's like, okay, great!
[00:09:29.550]I can step aside.
[00:09:30.460]And that's when they take ownership and they love
[00:09:32.810]the process of creating material and putting on a newscast,
[00:09:36.990]a live newscast and pulling it off.
[00:09:39.480]Working around all the wobbles
[00:09:40.960]and the technical difficulties that go with that.
[00:09:43.100]And that sense of accomplishment that comes with
[00:09:45.240]really achieving something like that.
[00:09:46.850]So I think that's exciting to watch too.
[00:09:54.510]To prepare students for future careers
[00:09:56.340]in journalism, McCoy shares his experiences,
[00:09:59.100]including the sometimes painful stories he covered
[00:10:01.910]as a reporter.
[00:10:03.100]He tells them it's okay to ask for help,
[00:10:06.040]but don't be afraid to tackle the hard stuff.
[00:10:08.980]Challenges will always exist.
[00:10:11.020]Your success and happiness in life ultimately is based
[00:10:14.010]on your ability to, to face those challenges.
[00:10:17.330]No matter the outcome.
[00:10:18.830]And to understand that they are a very real part
[00:10:21.530]of our lives, they're part of our experiences.
[00:10:23.520]And sometimes you begin to understand that sometimes
[00:10:26.170]the biggest challenges we've had, prepare us
[00:10:29.470]to do greater things in our lives than we ever imagined.
[00:10:33.954]Which brings us back to this
[00:10:35.027]candlelight vigil tonight.
[00:10:36.770]To honor the dead and their loved ones.
[00:10:39.520]20 Years ago, Barney McCoy reported
[00:10:41.770]on a candlelight vigil.
[00:10:43.500]Tiny pinpoints of flickering light against the backdrop
[00:10:46.390]of the smoldering ruins.
[00:10:51.057]It was a turning point for McCoy and for the country.
[00:10:55.010]It was still summer when we got there.
[00:10:57.600]I even got a little bit of a sunburn that one morning
[00:11:00.930]we were out covering the first day after.
[00:11:03.600]You know, bright sunshine.
[00:11:05.010]So warm, summery day.
[00:11:06.850]And by the end of the week,
[00:11:09.780]a cool front came through and,
[00:11:12.420]and suddenly it just felt like it's fall
[00:11:14.940]and a chapter has closed and something else has begun.
[00:11:33.010]That's it for Faculty 101.
[00:11:34.950]This podcast is produced by the University
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