The good and not-so-good of marking a memorial

I hardly know where to begin to talk about the stories and slideshows and commentaries I’ve been reading for the past couple of days about the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. We’ll be talking a lot in class on Tuesday about what the Missourian did, but there was much to appreciate in the New York Times.

For example, listen to the cadence of the writing in this piece, which turns an “event story” into a kind of poetry (and talk about a powerful ending).

Dan Barry’s piece on the strange mementos of that terrible day is beautifully written and powerfully complemented by a slideshow of the objects people in the story describe. It’s one of the articles in the special section the New York Times called “The Reckoning.” I also read every word of the story about a neighborhood in Queens that was hard-hit by 9/11 casualties and then again, not long after, by the crash of an airliner.

The presentation of this work on the New York Times website is elegant and usable, in my opinion (though I don’t think I’m in love with “The Reckoning” — sounds like the name of a sci-fi film).

And guess how many people responded to the New York Times’ question, “Where were you on September 11, 2001?” More than 35,000.

USA Today went for a very somber look and tone.

The Washington Post did a series called “Nine Lives, 10 Years Later,” and I was overwhelmed by the length of these stories. I think I found through them my own personal limit on 9/11 profiles. It would seem that memorials like these are an opportunity for the worst kind of overwriting, not just in length but in prose-style.

There’s only so much reading one person can do in one day (especially when it’s a gorgeous 74 degrees outside) so tell me what you liked or didn’t like in the coverage of this anniversary. Share links, please!


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20 Responses to The good and not-so-good of marking a memorial

  1. Alicia Stice says:

    This isn’t from a newspaper, but I think this multimedia piece from Time is excellent. It is simple and tells so many powerful stories.

    • Kip Hill says:

      I’m so glad someone else mentioned the Time coverage. I was surfing around the news sites on Sunday morning, but nothing (in my opinion) came close to the print version of the Times that arrived at my apartment last week. The pictures captured the emotion of the stories perfectly, and the magazine was able to cover a much wider breadth of occurrences by going the ethnography/oral history route through interviews than trying to impose some kind of framing technique on their coverage. I loved Tom Brokaw’s story about the fear following the anthrax attacks, and how that brought the newsroom closer together (reporters, cameramen-everyone). A lot of those very minute human interest details about the days after the attacks get lost in recollecting the specific day the attacks occurred.

      Again, not print specific, but I was rather fond of the New Yorker cover for this week as well: Not quite as powerful as the Spiegelman cover directly after the attacks (, but still incredibly moving.

      I thought the Missourian did a pretty decent job covering the attacks. I wish more people would have contributed to the “recollections” piece ( I enjoyed the narrative quality of the submissions. I think, as we try to piece together the significance and meaning of that day, I’m kind of turned off by traditional coverage. Yahoo ran a kind of overly-sappy account (in my opinion) account of the memorial ( that would have been more powerful if the writer hadn’t tried to channel Keats, either. I think putting the stories in the words of the people themselves was the best strategy any news outlet employed, and Time did the best job of that.

      • reedkath says:

        What do you mean, “not print specific”? The New Yorker is very definitely print. I’m about to dive into their coverage (I’ve been reading the New Yorker for 30 years), expecting some very thought-provoking stuff.

      • Kip Hill says:

        By “print” I was referring to the printed word-clearly my clarity meter isn’t operating at capacity this evening, haha. I haven’t dived deeply into the coverage yet myself, though I will say The New Yorker has done some of the most interesting and groundbreaking “on the ground” pieces over the years. Jon Hersey’s “Hiroshima” is just as bone-chilling today as when it graced the pages of the New Yorker over 50 years ago, and George Packer’s “War after the War” is one of my favorite pieces about the second Iraq conflict to date.

  2. Julia Boudreau says:

    I found these mini profiles from the Huffington Post website to have a good balance between not too much text and use of photos. They allowed readers to click on the photo to read the experience the photographed person had on 9/11. It also provides a new photo and picture every few seconds.

    While on that site I came across an article talking about a 9/11 Iphone app.
    This app allows people to hear the story of the people who’s names are etched in the memorial at ground zero, which I found interesting.

  3. Haoyun Su says:

    I watched WSJ’s “Voices of Sept.11”, not all of them, and the first piece “the Messenger” spoke to me. Maybe I’m astonished that a then-4-year-old kid remembered so much about that day.
    I love the page design of “the Reckoning”, it’s concise and easy to pick up what you wanna read.
    And also it’s a pleasant surprise to read Prof. Davis’s article about media coverage in the Missourian’s ebook about 911.

  4. The descriptive writing of the first piece you linked to regarding the families who visited the memorial site in NYC was pretty amazing. It was easy to read and the rhythm drew you through the story, all the way to the end.

    Since I’m naturally drawn to the international scene, I was really impressed with the story on CNN that describes (and shows) how people around the world remembered 9/11. I really liked the variety of people the author wrote about, as well as the fact that not all of the story was positive. The woman in Canada who converted to Islam that said she would stay home because she didn’t want to encounter people who thought all Muslims were responsible for 9/11 was a valid addition, I think.

    I thought the video was a bit choppy, but I thought the scenes it showed were a great visual and audible addition to the story (especially the bagpipes in Singapore).

    Yahoo put together what I thought was an interesting piece that showed how newspapers changed the design of their front page to commemorate the 10 year anniversary.

    I also like the quirky news, so I had to look into the clip on CNN that talked about cartoonists using their space in the Sunday paper to honor the memory of those who sacrificed on 9/11. I thought the clips were great, but as you mentioned in regards to other pieces you came across, the article was way too long. I didn’t finish it.

  5. Bari says:

    One of the more interesting pieces that I read about Sept. 11 was one I found via Twitter, from Esquire Magazine (say what you will about the magazine– not the most news-y of periodicals, by any means, but some excellent writing all the same) about the picture of the man falling from one of the Twin Towers. The piece, which wasn’t exactly formal in its style or reporting, was above all else interesting and compelling. I thought that the piece, which was a follow up to one written two years ago, exposed the pain of a family trying to clear their lost one’s name as the man who jumped from the tower. It focused on a single photo– and I think that it beautifully illustrated that sometimes in order to understand the “big picture,” you need to have a narrow focus.
    It focused on something that people choose not to talk about that day: the people who jumped, as opposed to waiting out their fate in a twisted race between flames and first responders.
    At any rate, it’s an interesting read, and I highly recommend it.

  6. Emilie Stigliani says:

    Katherine, I agree that the New York Times had some beautiful tributes to 9/11. The ones you listed were excellent examples of good story concepts, writing, and photography. Another piece I really liked was the multi-media piece under “The Reckoning” titled “The workers.” ( This piece was beautiful and definitely got me thinking about the reporting multi-media project that I’ll be doing in October.

    Also, I admire the “Ten Years In” broadcast on This American Life. I like that they focused their stories on what Americans have done in the years since the 9/11 attacks. Finally, The New Yorker had some wonderful reflective pieces on the events on and around the the events. Unfortunately, you have to be a subscriber to view their stories.

  7. Rikki Byrd says:

    Professor Reed,

    I agree that New York Times did an excellent job in presentation of their work for 9/11. Being a fashion fanatic, I didn’t expect their to be coverage on the 9/11 as it related to the runway. However, I was surprised when I found a slideshow on designers that were affected by 9/11. It’s nothing fancy, but it just shows how deep NY times were willing to dig to cover all spectrums of the attacks that day. Here’s the link

  8. keliza13 says:

    I really enjoy reading Rolling Stone’s less-than-conservative political pieces, but for the 9/11 anniversary coverage, they decided to reprint a ton of the stories written in 2001. I liked the idea of giving us a retrospective; even though they didn’t have a print date until a few days after the anniversary, their website was stocked with the articles they ran in September and October of 2001.
    My favorite piece, which I just recently read for the first time, was actually written by the late author David Foster Wallace. It was about how the Midwest coped with the attacks, which is a fresh look compared to the New-York-based stories. He wrote it from Bloomington, IL, which is only a few hours from where I live, and he summed up what I remember to be our feelings rather well. He describes how flags are everywhere, which I definitely remember at the time; our neighborhood never looked so patriotic. In fact, he does a great job of commenting on the “my flag is bigger than your flag” mentality going on in the Midwest, where only a handful were truly affected by the attacks, or at least verbal about it.
    Other great articles included the editor’s letter by Jann S. Wenner, originally published Oct. 25, 2001. It’s a very prolific piece compared to what most people expect of a “rock n’ roll” publication.

  9. Does anyone have seen these videos of eight artists explaining how 9/11 and its aftermath have informed their work and lives? To me, it’s an interesting focus and a new approach to talk about and celebrate 9/11.

    Here’s the link:

    For those of you who speak French, here I share two very good articles :

    * Le Monde (one of the most famous French newspaper) analyzed the debate about Islam in the U.S.

    * Another excellent article was published online by Le Monde. The title is very interesting : “Certaines libertés ont aussi disparu le 11 Septembre 2001”, which means “Some freedom have disappeared since Sept. 11, 2001.”

  10. Crystal Herber says:

    I think I was most struck by Dan Barry’s piece about the mundane items that people kept after 9-11. I actually went through the slide show first and read the quotes that people gave of the items. I like the idea of the reporter just getting out of the way and letting people tell their story. Sometimes as a reporter, that’s just the right thing to do. For an event like remembering 9-11 there is no way the reporter can sympathize with the victim, or know what they personally are going through. I think that is why I like this piece the best, it’s not a conversation between dark and light, it’s just people–and their stories.

  11. Abbey Sussell says:

    I think what I most enjoyed about the 9/11 coverage was all the new angles. I have heard from so many people that the 9/11 coverage became repetitive. In some ways it did, but most of it was new information for me (considering I was only 10 years old in 2001). I had never thought of remembering 9/11 through the items people kept that day. I also would never have had the opportunity to re-live that day vicariously though the survivors it it wasn’t for coverage like Time Magazine’s.

    I read a piece written on the New York Times Bits blog about how 9/11 would have been different with our modern technology:

    These are the types of articles that allow me to reflect not only on that day, but on how far we have come as a society in 10 years.

  12. I thought that this article about 9/11 from the German publication Der Spiegel provided very different content than I’ve seen so far in American coverage:,1518,785405,00.html

    While the anniversary is important to cover, I felt like it was over-covered, and overwhelmingly what I’ve read has been soft-news, human-interest pieces. This article took a more hard-news approach, and rather than focusing on sentimentality, made a critical assessment of how the attack has impacted and fundamentally changed America in the past 10 years, focusing on politics and international policy. I thought it was more informative and thought-provoking than most other coverage.

  13. I had actually already read one of the articles you mentioned, “What We Kept” by Dan Barry. After being bombarded by 9/11 memorial coverage all weekend, I still think it’s one of my favorites. It really stood out to me because it was a different way to tell the story, but was still completely relevant. The writing itself was incredibly descriptive, and I thought he did a really great job of pulling all the different stories together cohesively. I was glad that each photo of a relic in the slideshow was accompanied by a somewhat lengthy quote from the person who saved it, because it gave a window into the minds of people who were actually there on that day. I liked that Barry relied on the personal quotes from these people instead of preaching his own wisdom about what 9/11 means. The first time I read the article, I couldn’t stop looking through all 22 photos, which I think is a testament to how well the story is put together.

    I agree with you, though… I didn’t think “The Reckoning” was the best title for the stories in the package.

  14. I read Roy Peter Clark’s post about story-telling earlier.

    I think ‘Connecting With Lost Loved Ones, if Only by the Tips of Fingers’ did a great job focusing at small things in reporting such a big event. Besides, the two paragraphs describing families “filtering into the plaza” are beautiful that I could picture the movement and the in my mind when reading it. The environment is also depicted and embedded at the right points in the story.

    People who have habit of keeping things for memory would share emotional consonance with ‘What we kept’; I’m one of them. I cannot help but wonder how the journalist found the sources and dug out the details. Again, small things are powerful.

  15. Fedor Zarkhin says:

    The BBC’s ‘9/11 Memories from the wreckage’ combined pictures of objects related to 9/11 with audio of people talking about them and and their experiences on 9/11. I like the variety of stories the BBC chose, from a story about a WTC antenna that is now in a museum to toe rings that supposedly saved a woman’s life.

    The BBC’s 9/11 package was good because it offered different kinds of information and presented it in an engaging way. One set of infographics, for example, explained some of the consequences of 9/11, including the wars in the Middle East and extraordinary rendition.

    A lot of the the BBC’s 9/11 content was multimedia-based, consisting mostly of photos, audio, videos and some maps. Considering the overabundance of 9/11 coverage last Sunday, this was probably a good way to keep people’s attention.

  16. Carlos D. Navarro says:

    Hey, everybody. Just a few thoughts about what I have seen about the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
    First of all, I was impressed by the coverage the New York Times did. The story about the mementos some people kept was, in my opinion, the most effective in creating an I-could-have-been-there-and-done-something-similar kind of sense in the reader. Basically, because most of us share two features: our curiosity and our desire to leave and keep proof that we’ve been there, somewhere. I agree with Professor Reed that the piece is very well complemented by the pictures and captions; they just served to reinforce the power those objects have had in those people’s lives throughout these 10 years. It was just so easy to identify with the reasons why people would keep and cherish these objects.

    As to the USA Today approach to this significant date, I think it just shows us how a particular event can be viewed from different angles. There are some pieces in the USA Today coverage that I enjoyed reading, as they told me things I didn’t know about 9/11, particularly the one related to the millions of people who were willing to observe the 9/11 anniversary by participating in charitable activities across the country (Joplin, Mo. being one of those!). It can be read here:

    I should also say that the pieces from Washington Post were, indeed, a bit too much for me. I mean, most of them tell interesting stories, but the writing gets too dramatic in many parts, and I think the whole point of remembering such a terrible experience should not be to deepen the pain and suffering the relatives and friends of the victims have gone through, but to see those terrible events with a new light, as we move toward a (hopefully) better future.

    In this sense, I liked the Missourian article with quotes from different religious leaders of the Columbia community ( I think it does a great job at focusing our attention to the fact that in spite of our differences, we are together in our desire for a better world. I know that there isn’t much writing involved, but it was a great idea altogether.

    Finally, I would like to share some other pieces about the commemoration of 9/11 that I found on the web and that caught my eye:

    As I lived in Great Britain for a year, I do tend to have a look at British papers from time to time. I think these two stories from The Daily Telegraph are quite interesting. The first ( was written by the US editor for the paper, so I think it gives an interesting perspective from the eyes of a foreign reporter covering the terrible events of 9/11. The second ( is a series of before/after pictures which caught my attention a lot.

    I also wanted to share “the Latin American perspective” of this 10th anniversary. Unfortunately, most papers in Latin America only have Spanish versions (a major flaw, in my opinion), so I was only able to get this rather poor article published by the Buenos Aires Herald, in Argentina:

    For those of you with reading skills in Spanish, here’s a piece from Diario Tal Cual, a paper from Venezuela. It was written by a Venezuelan reporter who was studying at the University of Syracuse when the WTC was attacked:

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