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How the WSJ put out a newspaper after the 9/11 attacks

September 11, 2021

Posted by Chris Roush

Dean Rotbart, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, has an excerpt from his book “September Twelfth: An American Comeback Story” on Fortune’s website about how the Journal was able to produce a newspaper in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Rotbart writes, “Behind the scenes of the Wall Street Journal’s Sept. 12, 2001, edition—featuring an iconic, six-column front-page headline for only the second time in the paper’s history—can be found four guiding principles applicable to all corporate executives and managers. An examination of the paper’s performance on 9/11 not only offers timeless insights on how to prepare for a catastrophic emergency but also highlights the elements of a corporate culture that will lead to greater success 365 days a year.

“The reason that the traumatized and widely dispersed staff of the Wall Street Journal was able to report, write, edit, print, and deliver a newspaper on the morning after the terrorist attacks rested with a deeply rooted management style and corporate values that predated 9/11 by decades.

“The salient features are these:

  • Clarity of purpose. Steiger, who became the paper’s managing editor in 1991, established and maintained a clear vision of the Journal’s mission and his expectations.
  • Consistency of leadership. He and his deputies hired and trained employees who would wholeheartedly embrace the paper’s time-honored principles. Integrity and professionalism were the guide rails for all management and editorial decisions. Even on Sept. 11th, the editors offered no leniency when it came to getting the facts straight.
  • Respect for subordinates. Once he enunciated his priorities, Steiger’s management approach was to get out of the way of his subordinates and let them work more or less unsupervised. To bolster his team’s sense of self-confidence, Steiger would praise publicly and often, and criticize in private as infrequently as possible.
  • Encouragement for risk-takers. Reporters and editors at the Journal were allowed—even encouraged—to take risks in the hope of elevating the paper’s journalistic edge. If those gambles failed to pan out, managers didn’t make a big deal of it. Their response: ‘Move on.'”

Read more here.

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