Allie Stofer (she/her), FCLC ’23, is the former editor-in-chief at The Observer. She is a political science major, with a double minor in history and women, gender and sexuality studies. Previously, she has worked as a news editor. When she is not editing articles, she can be found embroidering and trying new restaurants.
40 Years of Crisis Coverage at The Observer
A look back at the coverage and experiencing the crises of 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and COVID-19
March 29, 2021
During a crisis, people rely on newspapers for quick and reliable news. Over the past four decades, The Observer has been responsible for keeping students informed about current events, whether they were a tragic attack, a devastating storm or a viral outbreak that scattered students across the globe.
Reporting on 9/11
After the 9/11 tragedy, reporters from The Observer were faced with not only reporting on the event but also grieving for the loss of many loved ones.
“Living in the epicenter of a crisis was transformative due to the sense of helplessness I experienced,” former Editor-in-Chief Jessica Arabski, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’04, said.
At the time of 9/11, Arabski was a staff writer at The Observer, writing articles for the News section. She wrote an article regarding the possible new restrictions on international students from the federal government after 9/11.
The first issue published following 9/11 was published on Oct. 1, 2001. The second issue published after 9/11 was printed a month after the event, on Oct. 19, 2001. The issue covered professors remembering loved ones and the Mass that honored the lives of 24 alumni lost during 9/11.
“The planes that struck the World Trade Center on September 11 struck at the heart of the Fordham community, too,” an article written by Laura Ralph, FCLC ’03, stated.
While students reported on lost loved ones, they also were surrounded by memories of the event. The attacks on 9/11 had a deep impact on students, as they witnessed the city, and university, attempt to rebuild.
Aside from writing for The Observer, Arabski also volunteered at different shelters and centers in the immediate aftermath.
“When I volunteered downtown, I saw the twisted remains of the Twin Towers steel frame, the streets strewn with debris, and a fog of smoke, dust, and chemicals in the air,” Arabski said. “It was a jarring disruption to my reality, and, at that time, I could not comprehend how ANYTHING could ever be normal again. The air smelled of chemicals for over a year, especially at certain times, like in the evening walking across campus when the wind was just right.”
Arabski is now a forensic psychiatrist, and she says that she utilizes many skills she learned from reporting on 9/11, such as compassion and empathy.
“The experience of September 11, 2001 helped me see that I wanted to be part of a story as opposed to just writing a story. I felt useless being so close to the grief and losses of other people, and that sensation of helplessness caused me to take a circuitous career path,” Arabski said. “In this way, I feel that 9/11 led me to my present role.”
Reporting on Hurricane Sandy
When Hurricane Sandy began on Oct. 29, 2012, The Observer was faced with the difficulty of how to print the paper. The editor-in-chief at the time, Harry Huggins, FCLC ’13, explained that the production team was rushing to get the newspaper to the printers.
Huggins left campus due to the rising water levels around McMahon and was staying with a friend in Harlem. On Tuesday, a day after the storm started, Huggins walked four miles back to campus to meet with other editors to finish up breaking news articles and get the issue published.
“We were up much later than a normal production night fact-checking and copy-editing the new articles and dropping in photos — I think we finally finished around 5 a.m. We PDF-ed it and sent it to the printer, then waited for confirmation,” Huggins said. “A few minutes later, the layout editor got a call from the printer. They were underwater and couldn’t print for at least a couple days. I’d rushed the staff and pressed to get it done for nothing.”
Huggins also explained that The Observer had just recently switched to publishing online-first, so they had not yet established strong routines to get all editors together for a quick turn-around. Nevertheless, they did have updates posted on The Observer website.
The managing editor, Ian McKenna, FCLC ’15, said that his biggest concern during the storm was the safety of other reporters. At the time, a staff photographer, Tavy Wu, FCLC ’16, went out to take pictures, which was very concerning to McKenna. The photograph from Wu went on to win awards.
“Sometimes risks are good to take, if you are safe about it,” McKenna said about what he learned from reporting on Hurricane Sandy.
Hurricane Sandy also required fast reporting to get the news out to students. During the hurricane, not only were classes canceled, but important dates such as spring registration and when students had to withdraw from classes without receiving a “WF” were also pushed back. Since the storm canceled classes for an entire week, Fordham made the decision to give more time for students to meet with advisors before having to make these decisions.
Reporting on COVID-19
The Observer recently marked the one-year anniversary of reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic, which also marked a full year since the newspaper has been in print. This change was only reversed on March 17, 2021, when The Observer hit stands around Fordham Lincoln Center’s campus.
“On the last day of ‘normalcy’ when most kids spent the day outside to celebrate class cancellations, the team was hard at work in the office to get the last print issue of the semester to the printer,” former Managing Editor Courtney Brogle, FCLC ’20, said.
When students were sent home, The Observer became an extremely important place to receive news, causing editors to produce articles on a fast-paced schedule.
“Knowing that a large portion of the Fordham community was depending on us for the most up-to-date information was also really special. It pushed me and the rest of The Observer to work as quickly and efficiently as we could,” Brogle said. “‘The Voice of Lincoln Center’ rang truer than it had ever before in my four years at Fordham, especially as the team and our audience were now scattered across the country and across the world.”
As a senior and someone in a managerial position, Brogle said that there was no time off and she struggled with having to break news while also mourning the loss of her senior year.
“Learning that the spring 2020 semester was going entirely remote, that all events were canceled, that my peers and I wouldn’t have a graduation … For any person learning news like that is overwhelming, but as I learned of new developments I had to put my emotions aside and continue to work,” Brogle said.
Brogle also said that the editor-in-chief at the time, Owen Roche, FCLC ’21, was responsible for conceptualizing what the digital production would look like. Brogle also gave credit to FCLC Dean Laura Auricchio and Gabelli Dean Rev. Vincent Decola, S.J., for helping keep students informed.
Important events only heighten the importance of student journalism on campus. Throughout it all, The Observer has continued to report with the goal of keeping students informed the whole time.
“Reporting on Covid taught me that the work of a student journalist is more important than ever,” Brogle said. “It’s a testament to the hard work (of) the E-Board and staff of The Observer — even when the going gets tough, we will never stop reporting.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated that the first issue of The Observer published post-9/11 was published on Oct. 19th, 2001. As of Sept. 23rd, 2021, this article has been updated to reflect the fact that The Observer published an issue on Oct. 1st, 2001, the second issue of the same volume.