The January issue of Columbus Monthly started to come together in earnest sometime in early November. In fact, every issue is at least a two-month process, from the time we nail down a story lineup to the day the magazine hits newsstands and subscribers' mailboxes. In those two months, each issue tends to take on a life of its own. The whims of life and death, law and order, time and money all remain in constant motion throughout the process of putting a magazine together, causing adjustments as the news cycle changes. Often, it's a bunch of pieces and parts being created in separate corners, and it's not until the final stages that we really see how the whole thing fits together to become what you now hold in front of you.
Sometimes there are little quirky things that we don't notice until the pieces all coalesce, like last month's issue—the JJ issue. Three different stories featured someone named JJ (though one technically was a J.J.—with periods—while another was more of a gorilla than a someone) and a fourth prominently featured an R.J.
Other times things can get more complicated. Like this issue. We had two features assigned and nearly completed as deadline loomed. One was on Abdi Sheik Mohamud, a former Whitehall-Yearling High School student whom federal agents allege was plotting to strike with an act of terrorism on U.S. soil. The other was our cover story on Ohio State University president Michael Drake.
Things changed dramatically on Nov. 28, when an Ohio State student of Somali descent crashed a car into a crowd of students and OSU employees outside of Watts Hall and then jumped out to continue his assault, slashing several people with a kitchen knife, injuring 11 before an OSU police officer shot and killed him. Within hours, many were claiming it was an act of terrorism, with ISIS claiming credit.
Our own story, already written, now became a tragic coincidence. Would readers be confused, thinking that we were writing about the OSU attacker instead of an alleged terrorist arrested nearly two years earlier? Could the incidents have been related in some way? What's more, would readers see our cover story on Drake and expect that it, too, was related to the frightening events of that Monday morning?
Last-minute adjustments had to be made. New reporting was added to both stories, even as answers were unclear and difficult to come by. Layouts were tweaked to acknowledge the OSU attack and its connection to both stories, as well as to try to eliminate any possible confusion about the focus of each.
But perhaps the real point of this column is not to belabor our efforts and bring you inside our process in light of a sad and confusing incident. The real point, really, is this frightening realization: When we talk or write about the discovery of a potential terrorist plotting death among us in Columbus, the first question that needs asked and answered is, “Which one?”