Reflecting on 9/11 as a journalist

By Sarah Stubbs
@sarahxstubbs

I was in first grade when 9/11 happened. My memories of that day are not very clear. But I do remember my teacher stopped her lesson to go out into the hallway and was hugging other teachers. I remember them crying.

Some of my classmates got to go home early. I think that I stayed until the end of the day, though, because I rode the bus.

When I got home, my mom was watching the news and crying.

Every year since then, my history classes, much like any history classes in the US (I’d imagine), would take a break in whatever it was we were learning to reflect back on 9/11.

In elementary and into middle school, we simply spoke about our memories of that day: how we found out, how our parents reacted, and what our teachers told us.

As I went on to high school, those reflections started with memories and then quickly turned into productive debates about the war on terrorism, George W. Bush, homeland security, and even Islamic extremism.

Today, I’m not thinking about any of that.

Immediately, I’m associating 9/11 with one of my favorite books, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathon Safran Foer. I’m also thinking about one of my favorite tear-jerker movies, “Remember Me” with Robert Pattinson.

And as my heart gets heavier and heavier thinking about all of the lives that were lost that tragic day, I begin to wonder how I would cover such an evil act journalistically if I were working in the news in 2001.

I remember the controversy surrounding all of the photos of victims taking the plunge and jumping off of the World Trade Center to their deaths rather than risking being burnt to death or smashed between cement. I think that there are even documentaries surrounding these photos, as some claim that they can identify some of those victims.

Some newspapers and publications chose to run these photos, others did not.

As journalists, the truth is always our main objective. But when the truth is hard to swallow and absolutely disheartening in extreme measures like 9/11, we must take extra precautions and be sure to project our stories and photos sensitively.

I can’t even imagine being in the positions of editors across the US deciding how to portray this evil doing, let alone the families of victims who would pick up those papers the following day.

In Max Frankell’s book, “September 11, 2001,” a collection of front pages across the US show that most used the images of the Twin Towers when they were first hit with the flames and smoke billowing into the sky. Others used photos of bystanders, observers, families of victims – all with faces filled with shock and sadness.

I’m not sure that any of the media was offensive, just because the act itself was so offensive and unbelievable, but yet that reality had to be faced and talked about.

That day the hearts of Americans across the country were broken. Some still are. But I think is important to keep in mind is how much our sense of nationalism increased after that tragedy and how Americans came together to comfort one another and support the military and other efforts to keep the US safe from terrorism.

We have a long way to go, with extremists who falsely label any incident a result of “Muslim Extremism,” those who pass judgment on Americans of Islam faith, and others who don’t support Homeland Security, but what has been accomplished in commemorating the lives lost is invaluable.

I hope that I never have to cover an event as tragic as 9/11 was, and am thankful for the competent, skilled journalists who told those stories gracefully.

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