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Journalists discuss impact of 9/11 attacks on newsrooms at panel

As part of Carnegie Mellon’s memorial of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a special panel event was held on Friday titled “Media Memories: 9/11 Scribes.” Held in the Singleton Room of Roberts Engineering Hall and hosted by the Carnegie Institute of Technology, the panel discussion looked back on the media coverage of the 9/11 attacks and analyzed how the event impacted newsrooms around the world.

CIT Dean Pradeep Khosla acted as the moderator for the event. The panel featured James Hagerty, news editor for The Wall Street Journal; Kevin Begos, supervising correspondent of the Associated Press; Rem Rieder, editor of the American Journalism Review; and Richard Snodgrass, author and photographer of An Uncommon Field, a book of photos and short prose on the temporary United Airlines Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pa.

The panelists focused on the global lessons the nation learned from the tragic event, as well as how the landscape of journalism changed as a result.

While the event only lasted about an hour, the panelists were able to discuss in depth the impact 9/11 had on journalism.
Hagerty told the audience members the story of one of The Wall Street Journal’s reporters, Daniel Pearl. After the attacks occurred and the U.S. entered a war with Afghanistan, news organizations sent their journalists to go to combat zones; Pearl was one of these journalists. Unfortunately, Pearl was kidnapped by al Qaeda while in Pakistan and held for ransom. When their demands were not met, the kidnappers beheaded Pearl on video.

The other panelists had similar stories of tragedy. Snodgrass, during his individual talk, expressed to the audience how he felt when he first saw the Shanksville memorial. Before he saw it, he said he imagined it to be similar to Elvis Presley’s or Princess Diana’s memorials; he pictured the Shanksville memorial covered in flowers and small teddy bears. However, the sight he found was much different. He said, slightly tearing up, that the Shanksville memorial was “40 feet of fence” and a bare field.

Snodgrass then went into detail about why he wrote his book, An Uncommon Field, to specifically commemorate the Flight 93 passengers. He focused on what he saw as the passengers’ immense heroism. “Those people said, ‘No, you’re not going to do that.’ The heroes of [Flight] 93 weren’t trained; these were just people on a plane who said no,” Snodgrass said.

Throughout the discussion, the panelists stressed the importance of properly memorializing the 10th anniversary. “You need to walk the line between remembering and exploiting or wallowing in it [the tragedy]. Shed light, not horror,” Rieder said.
Each panel member agreed that it was essential to “use hero, not victim” when remembering the tragic event. “People want to remember something heroic, not vulnerability,” Snodgrass said, when asked about how the public’s memory of 9/11 would be shaped by the anniversary.

After each panelist gave personal input stories, Khosla opened the floor to questions. The first question was direct and straightforward: Would Americans ever allow a tragedy like 9/11 to happen again? “Since [Flight] 93, no one will get away with hijacking a plane,” Rieder said.

Most questions focused on how 9/11 would be treated differently by journalists and, if the attack had happened yesterday, how social media technology would have changed journalism’s reaction.

In addition to the panel, engineering students hosted a “Letters From Home” campaign, in which they collected thank-you notes and condolences for the families of Flight 93 passengers.