CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/US TERRORIST ATTACKS - Response to US attack shows the strength of the UK's press. Newspapers were thinking on their feet as news came out

In stark contrast to the rest of the western world, 11 September

was a great day for national newspaper journalists. As the true horror

of terrorist actions in the US unfurled, the news came to the papers,

not the other way around.

But the papers and their editors nevertheless had numerous important

decisions to take as they concocted the news blend that would make up

Wednesday's pages: where to draw the line between just informing and

sensationalising; what editorial stance to take on such a fragile

diplomatic situation; what to do with advertising that, compared with

the news content, appeared trivial.

With graphic images and details flooding in, sensitivity became a

paramount issue. Editors made difficult judgment calls throughout the

first day of coverage.

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, felt it would have been

difficult to sensationalise such a sensational story. "There was nothing

you could do that would go over the top," as he puts it. The Mirror's

editor, Piers Morgan, on the other hand, was more cautious. "We've got

to remember we're a family newspaper," he says. "There are several

million body parts stuck in the area, but we don't need to labour the


Will Lewis, the news editor of the Financial Times, admits there was a

lot of discussion over whether or not to include an image of people

throwing themselves from the towers in the moments before they


"That was a debate we rolled over for the first edition and continued to

debate through the night," he explains. "We didn't run it big in the

end. Our reason for including it was that it was an important way of

describing the true horror of the situation."

By Wednesday morning it was apparent that all of the newspapers had

ripped up their style sheets. Several, including The Independent, the

Daily Express and The Daily Telegraph, ran full-page pictures of the

towers burning on their front pages. The Financial Times stood out with

a half-page picture and the headline "Assault on America"

white-on-black. Lewis explains how he wanted the Financial Times' front

page to differ from the other nationals: "We ran a 1,400-word splash

story from our New York and DC correspondents. The others used similar

images and a few words."

The paper also used a different picture: the Statue of Liberty in the

foreground with smoke where the towers used to be. Lewis wanted to

advance the story from the towers falling, something he realised all of

his readers would know by Wednesday morning - instead he wanted to show

that it was an attack on the US.

This was a dynamic news story, and the editors had to change their ideas

to fit its magnitude throughout the first 24 hours (the Financial Times

did not close until 4am on Wednesday). Talking with their US

correspondents was difficult as phone lines were down. At The Mirror's

Canary Wharf offices a fire alarm went off in the middle of the disaster

and staff were evacuated - many were unwilling to re-enter the building

even after it was discovered to be a false alarm.

In the days after the disaster, editorial direction has increasingly

differentiated the papers' coverage. The ideological differences between

The Sun and The Mirror have been reflected in their judgments on

President Bush's performance, while The Guardian has come under

criticism for including anti-American comment.

Rusbridger is angered by accusations of editorialising. "We have been

very clear about keeping editorial and comment apart," he says. "Nobody

has criticised a word of our reporting. As far as comment goes, I'm very

happy that we have carried a broad range, which is what Guardian readers


Morgan takes a similar line: "We have more than 35 columnists - all

sorts of people who are experts in their fields. I'm keen to have as

many different views as possible in the paper. There's no right or wrong

answer. Nobody has faced this situation before. It's the right and duty

of the papers to have as many views as possible each day."

However, it's apparent that his opinion sets the paper's tone: "I didn't

like it when the President was coming out like Wyatt Earp. I thought it

was the language of someone slightly out of control."

But he's not afraid to revise his opinion: "Last night (20 September) he

made a quite magnificent speech. I was very impressed."

Advertising was either cancelled or shifted to the latter half of most

of the nationals. But loss in revenue has been compensated by soaring

readerships. In London it was difficult to buy a copy of one of the

broadsheets by lunchtime on Wednesday. Sources suggest that The

Observer's circulation rose by more than 17 per cent to 559,000; The

Sunday Times sold more than 1.5 million copies, up by 10.13 per


The Sunday papers faced different challenges. Peter Wright, the editor

of The Mail on Sunday, which attracted an estimated 67,000 extra

readers, had to look for new angles on the story. "We discovered there

was a lot of material in America that the daily papers didn't pick up

because the hijackers operated in different parts of America like

Florida and Massachusetts," he says. Wright's paper was the first to

quote the owner of the Florida flying school saying that all the

hijackers were interested in was practicing their turns.

Looking back to the morning after the attacks, Lewis remains extremely

impressed with the coverage in the UK. "Every newspaper had a fantastic

night," he says. "Put against what the US and the continental papers

showed, you can see in no uncertain terms why the newspaper industry in

this country is the best in the world."