Links to coverage of the five-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, with special attention to journalistic forms that reflect interesting new approaches and/or work especially well.

The Power of Storytelling

Visiting Ocean City, Md., this past weekend, I found in the local
newspaper — The Daily Times — a story about the efforts of a husband
to honor the memory of his wife, who died at the Pentagon on Sept. 11,
2001.

Donn Marshall set up the Shelley A. Marshall Foundation because, the
paper quoted him as saying, “Something good had to come of that day.”
The foundation has sponsored local reading programs, creative writing
contests and a summer art workshop.

And to celebrate Shelley Marshall’s fondness for unwinding at day’s end
with a cup of tea, the foundation hosts tea parties — with real
teacups — for the residents of nursing homes. Thanks to the Web, the
foundation has received donations of more than 500 teacups from around
the world.

Certainly it appears that Donn Marshall and all of the foundation’s
supporters have helped something good come out of a terrible loss.

And so has Beth Ward, the local reporter who told this story. Good
local journalism helps us keep alive the memories of people and events
that help shape who we are. And sometimes, storytelling allows us to
participate in the life of our communities in ways we otherwise might
not have discovered. Read more

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Tuesday, Sep. 12, 2006

News Defined as Personal Stories

As a 22-year-old, I can’t think back to where I was when Japan attacked
Pearl Harbor or when Kennedy was assassinated. What I do remember is
exactly where I was and what I was doing the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Later that day, running laps during high-school gym class, my friends
and I commented that we suddenly felt a part of history, not just
students learning about it.

It’s that mentality that struck me about the fifth anniversary’s news
coverage. Multiple news outlets seemed to incorporate an element of
coverage that focused on personal stories.

I noticed it with my generation when I was reading my college
newspaper, Penn State’s The Daily Collegian. Erin James, editor in
chief, wrote a column that shares her experience of that morning. Her
column shows that Sept. 11 coverage also includes bottom-up news,
detailing what the observer has experienced.

But I also noticed it in older generations. NBC’s Brian Williams wrote
his reflection on Sept. 11 in the article “We moved on too quickly,”
which gives his reaction to the attacks and his childhood memories of
the Twin Towers. He, as with others, uses phrases such as “I will never
forget” and “I will remember that day.” Just Googling “I know where I
was on Sept. 11″ produces page after page of personal stories.

Everyday citizens shared their experiences on MSNBC’s “How 9/11 changed
our lives.”
So did Florida residents at St. Petersburg Times’
itsyourtimes.com. Photojournalists at The New York Times narrated the
stories behind their photos in “The Faces of 9/11.”

I think it’s coverage like this that draws in readers and creates a
shared sense of community. News isn’t just a one-way flow of abstract
information. It’s personal, and the media captured that. Read more

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Monday, Sep. 11, 2006

Five Years On: Tracking the Coverage

Poynter Online asked faculty and staff to file a paragraph or two about anniversary coverage that’s interesting for one reason or another. You’ll find several examples below. We invite you to add yours here.
 – Bill Mitchell, Poynter Online editor Read more

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The last few minutes, but not the last word…

Americans are puzzled over why so many people in the world hate us. We seem so nice to ourselves. They do hate us though. We know that and we’re trying to protect ourselves with more weapons.

We have to do it I suppose but it might be better if we figured out how to behave as a nation in a way that wouldn’t make so many people in the world want to kill us. 

Maybe you have to reach Andy Rooney’s station in life to say what he did on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary. Love him or hate him for it, you have to believe he speaks for a certain number of other Americans who wouldn’t dare say such a thing around the water cooler, much less to an audience of millions. 
 
Rooney is one of the dwindling number who remember first-hand the attack on Pearl Harbor, which is about the only event widely considered comparable to 9/11. Rooney covered World War II for the Stars & Stripes newspaper. It’s hard to imagine he would have asked his readers, even in December of 1946, to think about what the United States had done to provoke the Japanese. 
 
Historians have examined that question since then, without suggesting that we somehow had it coming to us. To give Rooney the benefit of the doubt today, he didn’t say the United States actually deserved the attacks of 9/11 — but I’ll bet he came close enough to enrage a lot of people. 
Rooney had the last word in a news program filled with meaningful, enterprising anniversary coverage. I doubt we’ve heard the last word about his contribution. Read more

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Through the Eyes (and Words) of Children

I was captivated by the story in Sunday’s St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times (the newspaper is owned by Poynter) that focused on the lives of three children, age 12 and 13, and how their world has changed in the five years since the 9/11 terrorism events.

What struck me was how much the story, written by the deputy features editor, John Barry, focused my own attention on the impact that the past five years will have on the generation growing up today. I grew up during the Kennedy years, and vividly remember the day the president was assassinated. And yet, to the credit of our democracy, life pretty much went on as before. This will not be the case for these three kids.

Barry’s story was a glimpse into our future. And he ended the piece in a very powerful way:

All three children say they are cautious about places they go, things they say on the computer.

They said this:

Aisha: “I pray every night.”

Austin: “I pray all the time.”

Monica: “I pray for everyone.”

Read more
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Friday, Sep. 08, 2006

Crimes Against Humanity

Five years ago, I was in a computer lab at a local college, getting acquainted with seven Saudi journalists at the start of a two-day writing workshop.

We’d begun by trading professional and personal histories, sharing details about newsroom jobs and families. Khalid, a page designer, had two boys and two girls. Abdullah was pining for his wife and their month-old daughter. Saeed, a professor-turned-editor, beamed over his grandchildren.

Shortly after 10 a.m. we had taken a coffee break when one of them ran up, breathless. Something about an airplane hijacking. We headed to the student union.

On the big-screen TV, the World Trade Center looked like an immense burnt match. In silence, we watched the replays of the second jetliner crashing into Tower 2 and its collapse, and then gasped at the terrible live shots of Tower 1 dropping to earth in a mushroom cloud of smoke and debris.

“It’s like a movie,” one of the Saudis said.

Faheem, the managing editor, asked what I thought we should do. Softly, he asked if I thought he and his colleagues would be safe. I don’t remember how I answered, but we agreed to meet the next morning.

Saeed and I headed for the classroom to lock up.

“This is not an attack against America,” he told me. “This is a crime against humanity.”

The Saudis left to phone their families. That night one of them shaved his moustache.

I returned to work, a journalistic homing pigeon in search of a computer, and wrote this story. Read more

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Thursday, Sep. 07, 2006

How Multimedia and Interactivity Can Help

Here’s a round-up of some of the more interactive approaches to the anniversary coverage:

MSNBC’s “9/11: Five Years Later” displays an interactive section of audio personal narratives and a
feature on the controversial ABC docudrama.  

CNN sought for user-response in compiling “America Remembers: The Faces of September 11.” This site tells some of the personal stories, documenting “the actions, reactions and perspectives” of 10 people connected with the attacks in various ways. Included in this list is Tom Burnett, 38, who was on the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 that went down in Pennsylvania.

CNN Pipeline is providing a free trial to its service that includes video from the network’s original coverage of 9/11 in its entirety. The real-time broadcast takes place from 8:30 a.m. to midnight.

When the idea of a Ground Zero memorial was proposed by officials, CNN.com asked readers to propose their own
ideas. What resulted was an outpouring of more than 3,000 entries from
all over the United States, as well as 76 countries.

NPR also keys in on audience feedback in the Sonic Memorial Project. Led by NPR’s Lost and Found Sound, the collborative project continues to “collect stories,
ambient sounds, voicemails, and archival recordings to tell the rich history
of the twin towers, the neighborhood and the events of 9/11.”  More than “50 independent radio and new media
producers, artists, historians, and people from around the world … have
contributed personal and archival recordings.” More than 1,000 contributions have been added.

The New York Times makes good use of the voices of its own staff in “The Faces of 9/11.” Times photojournalists provide narration, describing the story behind their pictures. “I very vividly remember seeing this piece of
the World Trade Center sticking up out of the ground, the skin of that
building, silhouetted against the sky, and you just can’t believe what
you’re seeing,” said staff photographer Justin Lane. His photo: Two women stand grieving on an empty street, the scene shrouded in a cloud of grayish dust, debris scattered around them. Read more

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The People and the Photos

The St. Petersburg Times, which is owned by Poynter, kicked off its 9/11 anniversary coverage in this morning’s paper. A three-column centerpiece (see PDF version here) dominates the page and focuses on the family of flight attendant CeeCee Lyles, who died on United Airlines Flight 93. Inside, page 6A is devoted mostly to three pairs of then-and-now photographs depicting the Manhattan sklyline, an apartment 350 feet from ground zero and the Sarasota classroom that President Bush was visiting when the planes hit the buildings.

What works for me: The story on the Lyles family is well and briefly told, just under 1,000 words. Short enough that I can read it before work as opposed to piling on a stack never to be read later.

The smartly selected and edited photos, especially the photos of the apartment on Cedar Street, reconnected me to the events of the day.

Online, The Times set up a Share Your Memories area. I visited fairly early this morning so not surprising that no comments had been posted yet, but I liked the feature that showed me how many readers (43) had visited by the time I did around 7 a.m.

What could use some work: I was surprised not to find the photos from 6a. Maybe there were rights issues — or maybe they actually are online and I failed to find them — but I was looking for some reference to them on the launch page for the package. (As a newspaper reader who often encounters the same paper in print and online, I appreciate editing that takes such dual-platform usage into account. I’m sure there’s research showing how common or unusual such usage is these days, but can’t recall it off-hand.) Read more

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