Art out of tragedy

This post comes a bit late, but journalistically-speaking, this has been on my mind all week.

Sept. 11, 2001: a day that changed the world and the lives of people everywhere. It’s a day I remember through the blinders of a 9-year-old girl living in the suburbs of St. Louis, but it’s also something I’m reminded of once a year.

In the past few years, I’ve found myself spending Sept. 11 not so much remembering the day, but learning about the events that took place and how a country reacted to it. It is a history lesson of sorts for me, since I was so young when it actually happened.

One thing that I’ve discovered is that out of the tragedy has come some truly amazing works of journalism. If you want to consider journalism an art form (which I often find myself doing), then you don’t have to look any further than the works published every year around the anniversary of Sept. 11. But it doesn’t start with remembrance: excellent journalism was bred as the events were still unfolding.

In 2010, as a nation marked the 10th anniversary, I spent some of that morning watching a rebroadcast of the Today Show on MSNBC from 2001. I watched Matt Lauer and Katie Couric coach a nation of viewers through what was happening, staying as professional as ever. If there was ever a time to be an excellent journalist, this was it, and the two anchors handled the moment with poise despect the fear and uncertainty that must have affected them as well.

That same day, I downloaded my special Sept. 11 10th anniversary TIME magazine onto my iPad. The issue was a collection of portraits of survivors and big players such as Rudy Giuliani and Dick Cheney, telling their stories. Beyond the print, though, the tablet version of this issue offered audio and video accounts of these stories. It was, and still is to this day, one of the greatest pieces of multimedia journalism I have ever seen.

TIME magazine’s “Beyond 9/11”

In 2003, Esquire magazine published “The Falling Man,” but I discovered it this year. This long-form piece is a riveting story of identifying a man who made the decision to jump out of a burning building. The story also questions the ethical decision of newspapers around the country to run the photo. This story made me think not only of the journalistic side of the decision, but also “What was this man thinking when he made this decision?” I cannot even imagine.

The Falling Man photo

I believe tragedy breeds great art, and Sept. 11 is no exception. One of my peers at The Maneater, MU’s student newspaper, wrote a beautiful column about his experience as a young boy living in New  York City in 2001. A sports columnist, he tells the story of how baseball saved a city and a nation. When I think about great Sept. 11 journalism, I will always remember this column.

When the anniversary of Sept. 11 comes around each year, I plan to spend it discovering the stories of the survivors and those who experienced the attacks in a more immediate way then I did. It’s a history lesson for me, but it’s also a day for great journalism, and that’s something I can always appreciate.


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