September 21, 2021

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9/11 Documentary Jeff Orlovsky on Student Journalism Experience

3 min read

Jeff Orlovsky is an Emmy-winning documentary who was a senior at Stuavasant High School on September 11, 2001. With the World Trade Center on fire, Orlovsky’s intention is not to flee the scene, but to find out exactly how the block is being covered. Within weeks of his expulsion from school, he and a small team of student journalists produced a special edition of the paper distributed by the New York Times.

He recalls his 9/11 experience to former classmate and Variety Senior Features Editor, TV, Daniel Torchiano:

I was in a music class downstairs when the first building hit, and my first instinct was that there was a truck outside – just some big truck that slammed its doors. It wasn’t really understandable, but it was very loud and very close and everything was otherwise normal.

Then I went into environmental science [class] And the second building was hit. And our teacher was trying to keep studying in class as if nothing was happening. There was a real inconsistency. We looked outside and saw smoke coming out of the North Tower.

I found Ethan [Moses], Our photographer, and we got our press pass, and I tried to get him out so he could take pictures. I remember seeing some of our editors crying in the hallway, and I hugged them and they weren’t in work mode, so I said, “Look for other people.” It was about how we find out to cover this thing. A news event was happening just outside our window, and we wanted to try to catch it. We were trying to be journalists.

When the second building fell, we were now evacuating. I was at the north end of the building, and as I was approaching the door, the south of the building went dark. I was standing on the north exit stairs, running in the middle of the crowd in the opposite direction: everyone inside was trying to get out and everyone outside was trying to come back. Was not there

We used to do desktop computers in our layout editing office, but we put everything on this brand-new laptop [that I borrowed from another student]. We developed a relationship with some of its editors [New York] Time and they let us use their darkroom. Everyone was just trying to do something that could get different perspectives and gain experience in our school and our community.

It’s been with me ever since. I think I really processed the emotions of that day on the 10th anniversary. I think jumping directly under the pressure of work has masked the real-time experience of what’s happening. Recovering it after 10 years was particularly heavy and difficult for me. I certainly don’t think I can personally capture that day in a picture. But then, people wanted to share our stories and our messages. People donated magazines to us; They donated to our New York Times magazine – they distributed 830,000 copies throughout the New York metro area. It was a complete transformation for me to see our work spread like this. We were just a bunch of high school kids who created something that others appreciated and wanted to share, and that has been my life ever since: just trying to create things that talk to the public about the problems we face.

The quote on the back of the magazine was a quote from WH Alden saying, “We must love each other or die” and today I feel the same way. Either we love each other or we are going to kill each other. War is not the answer to anything, and if the last 20 years have taught us something, there are better and smarter ways to resolve our tensions. If we are going to have any success as a civilization then that is what we need; We need to work on bridge-building and empathy-building.

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