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The 9/11 Anniversary Isn’t News? Says Who?

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So, on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the editors at the almighty New York Times don’t think there is enough news value to warrant any 9/11 anniversary coverage on the front page of their newspaper.

In an online discussion with Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore, Margaret Sullivan, the new Public Editor for the Times says she spoke with two key editors “and they explained that their decisions were driven by news value and by the fact that this is the 11th anniversary, after an elaborate effort last year.”

Not news?

In New York City?

Seriously?

Talk about disconnect.

The good news is that at least The Times didn’t feel breast implants merited A1 coverage today.

I just don’t buy this defense.  Even the Times realized it WAS news today….because there was 9/11 coverage on the Web site for most of the day. And, given the millions of people who come to the Web site every day, whose to say that the A1 editors for The Times dictate what is news anyway?

And, as I wandered  through my Facebook and Twitter feeds today, it seemed that many people disagreed with the “it’s not news” designation.  My twitter feed has been churning away with the “#remember911” hashtag for much of the day.  But the esteemed editors at The Times probably think Twitter isn’t news either.  This notion that the almighty editors within closeted offices at hallowed newspapers are the ones determining the news proves again the quaint and antiquated nature of many news organizations in the year 2012.

The difference these days is that people don’t seek the guidance of The Times news editors — or any editors for that matter — to designate what is and isn’t news.  They go find the news themselves.

I don’t know why this bothers me so much. It really shouldn’t — the arrogance of this type of thinking from newspaper folks has driven many businesses aground.  But I worry that The Times editors — and many journalists out there — are missing a real opportunity.  “Anniversary stories” are rarely a plum assignment.  It’s easy to fall into a formulaic trap with the storytelling….but there is also a real chance here for journalists to continue educating, investigating and reporting out stories on 9/11.  Kudos to The Times for running such a story today — on the dangers of small ideologically-driven groups controlling the White House — even if it wasn’t on the front page.

Newspapers and news organizations are also a place for people to learn about history — in order that we not repeat it.  Yes, we need to avoid saturation coverage — but the coverage can’t just disappear. I asked my son — a freshman in high school — what he was going to be doing today in school regarding 9/11 discussion.  He said: “Nothing.  We did a lot last year but that was only because it was the tenth anniversary.”  Such a mentality is a dangerous, slippery slope.

UMass Panel to Look Back at 9/11 Attacks on 10-Year Anniversary

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(Updated: Aug. 29)

Mark Stencel, the managing editor for Digital News at NPR, will join a group of University of Massachusetts educators on Sept. 8 to take part in a panel discussion looking at how the U.S. and the world has changed in the decade since the 9/11 terror attacks.

“The terrorist attacks of 2001 and the beginnings of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq came as newsrooms were still grappling with what exactly it meant to be Web publishers,” said Stencel, who was an editor at The Washington Post’s web site on 9/11.

“At the time, our interactive online channels were still relatively new. For many of us, these channels for the first time provided global reach around the clock — including a new workday news audience — as well as nearly unlimited potential to dabble in new formats. But there were consequences: Newsrooms had accelerated deadlines and new competitors.
And we faced difficult questions about accuracy and what NOT to report.”

The panel, entitled “After the Towers Fell: A September 11th Retrospective,” will be held at 4 p.m. on Sept. 8 in the Campus Center Reading Room on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“This panel discussion will be of great interest to anyone whose life was changed by 9/11–which means everyone,” said Karen List, director of the Journalism program.

The panelists for the event are: David Kotz from the Economics Department; MJ Peterson from Political Science; Linda Tropp from Psychology and Stencel. The panel will be moderated by Steve Fox of the Journalism Program, also a former editor for The Post’s web site.

Peterson will discuss the Bush administration’s response to the attacks; Kotz will look at the economic consequences of the attacks in the past decade; and Tropp will talk about general social psychological processes involved in group categorization.

A reception will follow the panel discussion. The panel is sponsored by the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Journalism program, and the Departments of Political Science, Economics and Psychology.

Twitter, Bin Laden and the Future of Journalism

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I was in a car on 9/11, stuck in traffic just outside of Washington, D.C. when I heard the news of a “commuter plane” crashing into one of the towers at the World Trade Center on WTOP — the all-news radio station in Washington and the surrounding suburbs.

I was at home in bed with a laptop, about to go to sleep as I checked my Twitter account at around 10:15 Sunday night.  After a night of reading and grading, I was beat.  As I made one last round through Twitter, I sifted through journalist types talking about President Obama’s 10:45 press conference, before coming across this tweet from Keith Urbahn, chief of staff for  former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, at around 10:25 p.m.

That was quickly followed by another aide from an intelligence committee tweeting the same, and, then, the information floodgates seemed to burst open.  Soon major news organizations were confirming on their own — FOX News and the New York Times were the first — as everyone sat around waiting for the formal announcement from President Obama.

Ten years after 9/11, I found out about Osama bin Laden’s death via Twitter — a social media tool that just wasn’t anywhere on the Web journalism radar in 2001.

I yo-yo’d between Twitter, Facebook, online news sites and cable outlets until around 1:30 Monday morning.   To watch history unfold before your eyes is just mind-boggling.  But, despite all the cheering and cheerleading,  I’ve had some mixed emotions about the news.  I spent last night and today trying to digest the events, the news coverage and the reactions from around the world.

I’m still digesting but thought I would share some thoughts:

Technology.  On 9/11, the homepage of The Washington Post’s web site was redesigned on the fly.  At the time, we thought it was a pretty major development.  As I watched the real-time reporting and analysis occur last night on Twitter and Facebook, I began to think how far journalism has come in 10 years.  There was even live-blogging going on in Pakistan during the firefight.

The barriers to entry are gone and the news comes at you early and often with social media.  I evangelize about the possibilities of social media at every turn.  There are still those who wish to ignore it but, honestly, it’s their loss and I grow weary of talking to people who question that serious journalism can happen with a word like “tweet.”  Twitter and social media are the future of news distribution.  Get used to it.

Politics.  It’s a bit disturbing how quickly some folks today were drooling about the political prospects for Obama’s re-election, in light of the Bin Laden news.  It’s evidence  yet again of how divided this country has become since 2000.

More TK…..

Going Viral

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“Going Viral.”

It’s a saying we in the journalism profession hear a lot and for the most part it goes to the fundamental changes going on in the concept of “publishing.”  That’s a term that for decades has carried lofty connotations.  But with web publishing your writing can have a tremendous reach, thanks to the benefits behind the concept of “link journalism.”  The key to link journalism, and to “publishing” is to use social media to let folks know what you’ve published.  Those who may not have the content or material that you have will link to you, helping to inform the audience.  Once word gets out, you can end up being linked off of many sites.

In the first month of classes, we’ve seen several strong examples of Web publishing and the viral nature of publication.

One example came with coverage on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.  I was in a coffee shop on Sept. 10 doing some work when I saw this #wherewereyou hashtag on Twitter. The hashtag had been generated by The Washington Post’s web site as editors sought to get readers’ stories on where they were when the attacks happened.

After reading some of the entries on the Twitter feed, I was prompted to write a post on my own experiences on 9/11.  I posted my entry on Facebook and Twitter.  Editors at The Post then saw my blog entry, and they posted it here.  After the posting, I saw some spikes in page views but what really intrigued me were the analytics which showed page views from 9/12 on 9/11.  I thought it was a glitch but then remembered the global reach of The Post and figured I had some reading in a time zone a day ahead.

The viral spread continued when Dave Beard, the Boston.com editor, saw the post, commented on it and then added a link to the post on Boston.com’s Facebook page with this comment:  “FYI, nice remembrance by UMass prof Steve Fox, ex national/political editor of washingtonpost.com, on his 9/11/01, right here: https://umassjournalismprofs.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/remembering-911/

Nieman caught up the story a few days later and blogged about the hashtag.

The second example came with the sad news on Sept. 17 that UMass band director George N. Parks had died on a trip to Michigan prior to the UMass-Michigan football game.   As student journalists within the Journalism program reported the story that Friday morning, I recalled that students who took part in the Multimedia Bootcamp prior to the start of the semester had done on a video piece on the new band building which included an interview with Parks just prior to the start of the Fall semester.

I quickly posted the video on Facebook and Twitter and let news organizations throughout the state know about the video.  Prior to that day, the video had a handful of views and overnight it had more than 1,000.  The video was linked to by the Web sites of the Springfield Republican and the Daily Hampshire Gazette, amongst others.  In a time of grief, web publishing allowed us to share the Parks interview with UMass alumni all over the world.

In Web publishing, nothing is ever truly “old” and this was a pretty strong example of that.

Remembering 9/11

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9/11 in Amherst

Flags were flown all over Amherst, Mass. on 9/11.

This is a fairly solemn time of year for many around the United States, including myself.  Every year on this day, I feel the large bricks return to my chest.   For a long time after Sept. 11, 2001, I felt the bricks on my chest.

On that date, I had two young children — 3 and 1.  I lived in Gaithersburg — part of the sprawling Maryland suburbs outside of Washington, D.C. I was also the national/political editor for The Washington Post’s Web site on that date.  The big story before 9/11?  I was working with Chuck Babington, the political blogger for the site, for weeks on a package about tax policies which we were supposed to launch that day.  That became trivial rather quickly.

As the news broke that day, I struggled between my role as a father and that as a journalist/editor.  Students often ask how best to handle covering tragedy and how I handled 9/11 and the weeks and months afterwards.  Journalists always try and compartmentalize their emotions.  It wasn’t easy that day.  And, I’m still not sure I shouldn’t have grabbed my family, jumped into a car and driven into the mountains somewhere.

It’s a question that continues to haunt me.

Everyone always talks about the weather on 9/11.  It was a stunning Fall day.  I worked in Arlington — the location of The Post’s web site at the time.  I was stopped in traffic on Canal Road when WTOP, the all-news radio station in Washington, reported that a commuter plane had crashed into one of the buildings at the World Trade Center.  As someone who dealt daily in the world of breaking news, my first reaction was that the report didn’t make sense.  I called Jason Thompson, a colleague and friend who was already at the office and he said they were on the story and were trying to get details.  I was a block from my office when the news of the second plane came across the radio.  I called Jason again and I’ll never forget what he said:  “Yeah, we just saw it on TV.”  The tone in his voice gave me chills.  Still does.

I walked into a newsroom that was a sort of controlled chaos.  In  the national/political corner of the newsroom, Chuck was on his third update or so on the breaking story.  After discussions with Doug Feaver, the executive editor at the site and Ju-Don Roberts, the metro editor, we decided to send Chuck to the newspaper offices where he would be better able to take feeds from numerous sources.  It was a month before I saw him again.

We tried hard to focus on the story.

The day was a blur.

After the plane hit the Pentagon, I tried to reach family but the lines were jammed for hours.  Friends sat on Canal Road — again — for hours, as helicopter gunships with baby-faced soldiers leaning out the window buzzed overhead.

*  I remember standing on the balcony of our building and seeing smoke from the Pentagon.  We sent videographers to the Pentagon.  What they saw was traumatizing.

*  I remember lots of e-mail.  Many people I worked with forwarded what they were hearing from AP to local TV to local radio.  Sorting through what was rumor and what was real that day was perhaps the most challenging moment of my career.   The rumor of the car bomb at the State Department made it on air and on the Web at a number of places, including NBC’s Today Show….but proved wrong.  And as I watch the replay of the Today Shows’ programming that day, it’s stunning how quickly Bin Laden’s name is mentioned in connection with the attacks.  By 11 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, Tom Brokaw is on air giving background on Bin Laden.

*  I remember moments.  Standing in the middle of our building in Arlington, with reports of the fourth plane headed towards D.C. and one editor saying “we’re in the flight path to the White House.”  We looked at each other and then went back to our desks. We were in a vulnerable building, but no one left.  All those in the newsroom that day were focused on getting the story out.  Not only was it the day that transformed the country but it also transformed the journalism industry.  Feaver has often said that 9/11 was the day that Web journalism was born.  The Web site was re-designed on the fly that day and washingtonpost.com became a place not just for news but also a place for service journalism.

*  I remember everyone throwing themselves into covering the story.  No one left.  People in marketing, advertising and HR sent me information to add to the breaking news story.  Before there was crowdsourcing, we had a community of people contributing information.

*  I remember the video.  The plane. The crash.  The smoke.  The flames. Those jumping out the windows.  The horror of watching both buildings collapse.  I grew up in the New York suburbs and always considered myself a New Yorker.  Many family and friends worked in New York.  As I tried to juggle my duties as a journalist I thought about all those I knew in New York.  My uncle, now retired from the New York City police department, could not be tracked down until the early evening hours on 9/11.

*  I remember the bricks on my chest.

As 9/11 approached this year, I became disturbed about the coverage of the planned Islamic Center and the “burning the Koran” narrative that we’re still hearing today.   It really makes me wonder how far we’ve come in nine years.  For the most part, journalists operated with honor and distinction on 9/11 and the days and weeks afterwards.  I wasn’t feeling so positive around the hysterical coverage of these two recent storylines.  Facts have been ignored in favor of headlines, SEO and the desperation to be first . . . and the coverage has been nothing short of disgusting.

But I came across something yesterday in the social media universe that gives me hope.  A twitter feed with the hashtag #wherewereyou has gone viral and many are sharing their thoughts of the day.   The hashtag was generated by The Washington Post in an attempt to use merge social media and blogging and crowdsourcing to answer the question:  9/11:  Where were you when the towers fell?

It’s a simple but effective idea that has a created a story via the Twitter stream.  Reach out to the community and get their thoughts and create a story.  What a great idea.

As you read through the twitter stream, you gain perspective.  The day comes flooding back.  Life is valued.   And, you find yourself recognizing the narratives of the “Ground Zero Controversy” and the “Koran burning” for what they truly are.