Twenty years ago today, journalist Marisa Candia had just got home and was asleep after having finished her night shift at the CNN USA headquarters in Atlanta when her flat mate, a fellow journalist, woke her up. A plane had just hit one of the Twin Towers. They sat there in total shock as they watched the second plane crash into the other tower.
“At first I didn’t know what to do, but within minutes I knew I had to get back to the newsroom. While I was getting dressed again my father (a legendary former Ultima Hora and Balears journalist in Mallorca and Spain Patricio Candia) called me up and told me to get back to work. ‘Go, go, go,’ he said; ‘You’ve got to be there.’ I was already on my way.
“I was not down to work, but no one noticed. I remember the phones were ringing, everyone was in their zone, total professionalism. It was like a massive factory, everyone at their stations doing their job, but no one was talking - people were crying.”
Marisa was born in Barcelona in 1977. She was brought up in Mallorca by her father from Chile and her Colombian mother and went on to study journalism in Madrid. During the final year of her studies she applied for a job with CNN. After having sat three months of exams for the world-leading news network, she was awarded a full-time position at their headquarters in Atlanta.
She began as a video journalist in November 2000, working as a floor assistant. “I was the lowest of the low but gradually worked my way up to becoming a feed coordinator. My task was to package up all the incoming images and rushes from our bureaus around the world and other news sources and pass them on to the news desk.
“I have to admit that being sat right in the centre of the huge CNN USA newsroom was overwhelming. It was crazy but it is where I wanted to be. To be honest, with regard to my career, I could not have been there at a better moment.
“On the day of the attacks on the Twin Towers my journalistic instinct was to get straight back to work to help cover the breaking story in any way possible. I had to be there. It was surreal, it was like watching a movie. For many of my colleagues who, apart from being American, had friends and families in New York, it was very painful. Like I said, many were crying but everyone just got on with their jobs.
“My other flat mate, who also worked for CNN, was sent up to New York to help cover the story. All flights were grounded. There were no trains, so CNN drove her. I wanted to have done that but I was only 24 and just out of college, so I stuck to doing what I had been trained to. Within hours all of the newsroom staff were put on a ‘war schedule’ for 14 days.
“We worked 12-hour shifts round the clock. CNN really looked after all of us. They provided catering, accommodation at the hotel next door if needed, whatever we required to keep us going and to be able to perform to the best of our capabilities.
“Security was seriously ramped up. We were all frisked when we entered the building and, as we were a potential target, just like the other main news channels, any envelopes we received had to be checked and opened by security guards first because of the anthrax threat and the packages containing it which were being posted around the country. So, we spent the next two weeks working on our war footing. There were claims that the Pentagon was vetting images that were being broadcast, but I don’t know if that was true or not.
“What I do know is that I was in my zone. I guess not being an American or having any family there I didn’t really feel the same pain of most of my colleagues. I just got on with my job packing up all of the images that were flooding in of the attack and the aftermath.
“I reached one point when I was literally counting the number of people jumping out of the towers and the bodies being brought out by the firefighters and emergency services. There was hardly any time to really sit down and process exactly what had happened.
“There was an internal information system, so all breaking news was immediately broadcast over the tannoy, but everyone was so focused on the job at hand. During those two weeks all leave was cancelled; it was all hands on deck, no days off. But for me, as a 24-year-old journalist fresh out of college, it was an experience I will never forget. I made sure I took full advantage of the situation and I am proud to have been part of a team which was awarded an Emmy for our coverage of the attacks.
“So many things were happening. I remember talking to my flat mate who had been dispatched to New York the day after she reached the scene. The first thing she commented on was the smell. She couldn’t describe the strange smell around what was left of the Twin Towers, but like all of us it was really hard to take it in. It’s always the same when you’re looking at an event through a camera lens. Quite often it doesn’t seem real, it feels like a movie.
“That said, as the days passed, people started getting extremely angry. Even the extremely well educated top presenters and journalists were outraged; everybody wanted and was calling for revenge. I think the last straw was seeing people in Iraq out on the streets celebrating the attacks; Americans couldn't stomach that.
“There was a little restaurant near where I lived and it always had slogans of different types up and it posted ‘united we stand’ and didn’t change it for weeks, months. That’s how the whole country felt, and being in Georgia you can imagine the reaction locally.
“Bush or not, it made no difference who the president was at the time. They had no option but to respond in the way the United States did. It was very clear to me that you don’t treat the Americans like that and expect to get away with it. People started talking about Vietnam again, there was an outpouring of mass anger and a deep desire for revenge.
“With regard to what happened subsequently in Afghanistan, I can’t really comment. All I can say and what I do know is that the initial reaction was inevitable and that the way in which CNN covered the attacks was first class.
“It put the channel back at the top of the ratings ahead of Fox and CNBC, which had been ahead prior to the attacks. CNN are excellent at covering wars and conflicts; they seem to thrive off moments like that. I guess we were all part of a historic event that changed the world and the lives of millions of people in one way or another. It certainly changed mine.
“I was initially on an 18-month working visa with CNN, with the option to sponsor me for another three years.
“But as a result of the attacks, the United States government changed its policy on foreign workers and put American nationals first. To be honest, anyone could have done my job. So I returned to Spain and worked in Madrid in marketing and then for Disney, but after a while I got bored. I was a journalist, I wanted to be covering and broadcasting news not selling it.
“So, I went to work for a Colombian news channel Caracol for three months and made a documentary about the paramilitaries and then I returned to Mallorca, my adopted home. I don’t call or consider myself Mallorcan because, with respect to the Mallorcans, I am not - I’m not too sure what I am to be honest, I’m international I guess.
“Anyway, I returned to the island just before the local TV channel IB3 was launched and began working for them as a writer and eventually editor of the weekend news.
“However, after 20 years, I’ve decided to take year off to recycle and refresh myself. So much has changed in the media world. I was not taught anything about multimedia at college, we were still in the analogue days. So I am going to take some courses and get myself up to speed with the modern journalism techniques because my next goal is to work for the BBC.
“I think CNN and the BBC are the two best news channels and broadcasters in the world, so that’s my plan. Whether it happens, we’ll have to wait and see. But I am still so grateful for the time I had working for CNN and especially for CNN USA, the main channel. This was because the Hispanic channel takes interns before actually employing and paying them, so I was very fortunate to have landed a paid position with the flagship channel.
“CNN also taught me a lot about how to work with and treat people. We were always having family days when everyone would come in and meet the staff and colleagues' parents. There were numerous out-of-office events. It was all about bonding I guess and getting to really know who you worked with because this produces better results and makes employees more comfortable. These are things I have tried to introduce here in Mallorca.”