When terrorists struck American soil in 2001, a fearful nation turned to their televisions and newspapers to try to find answers in the chaotic aftermath of the attack.
Many Temple University School of Media and Communication faculty and alumni who were working in the field that day believe the media realized its potential while covering 9/11, but some voice concern about what has happened to journalism since.
[caption id="attachment_9698" align="right" width="300"> Lydia Timmins, JOUR '01, MMC '10, was in Manhattan on Sept. 12, 2001, covering the aftermath of the attacks for NBC10.
Lydia Timmins, JOUR '01, MMC '10, was a producer at NBC10 that morning. When the monitors in the newsroom began showing images of the World Trade Center on fire, she was among a crew of three immediately sent to Manhattan. They were able to get as close as New Jersey's Liberty State Park, located just across the Hudson River.
Armed only with background they heard on the radio on the drive up the New Jersey Turnpike, Timmins says she remembers being extra careful about the information they disseminated both on-air and to the people around them who were being evacuated from the city.
"I'm supposed to know everything that's happening, but I don't know everything that's happening," she says.
Faced with covering a story unlike anything she had ever been assigned, "I said to myself, 'What do I want to know?'" They spent their day sticking to the confirmed facts and letting people speak about their personal experiences or feelings.
"I think (journalism) changed that day, though I don't know that it changed permanently," Timmins says.
Especially on 9/11, she says broadcast media was how the public found out about the attacks. "That sense of responsibility permeated many of us for a long time."
Assistant Professor Peter Jaroff, MSP, who was a producer for the 6 p.m. news on 6abc on 9/11, remembers the overwhelming feeling that the viewers were counting on him. He was on his way into the office when he first heard that a plane hit the World Trade Center.
"I had think about whether I would continue on to work," he says. "But of course, I had to."
In the days immediately following 9/11, Jaroff remembers thinking that, "if anything good can come out of this, we could have more of a seriousness about what we do." He had hopes that local affiliates would focus more on important national and international news and recapture "something we had lost as a genre since the O.J. Simpson murder case."
But he says it didn't last long.
Within two weeks, Jaroff remembers the newsroom buzzing over news that someone was attacked by a pit bull and the level of interest in making it the top story. "To me, it's remarkable how little things have changed."
Joe Slobodzian, JOUR '73, an adjunct professor in the Journalism Department and a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer, believes print media were able to maintain a stronger focus on 9/11 and its aftermath for a longer period of time than their counterparts on television, an ethic that he says remains in print newsrooms today.
"We became a lot more detail oriented and a lot more interested in looking to describe to readers what they were getting with a cursory look from television," Slobodzian says. "Some of the in-depth reporting that we did, we had sort of fallen away from in the '90s."
He says the flow of information from official government sources remains much more restricted than it was before 9/11. "I'm much more conscious of the fact that information is being withheld in some fashion. There is a real sense among a lot of law enforcement of 'Why does he or she need to know that?'"
Even now, Slobodzian will write down interesting information on an official document as soon as he sees it because, "there's a chance that record's never going to be there again."
Part of the reason for the way television coverage reverted was demand from the consumers, says MSP Assistant Professor Amy Caples, RTF '85, then a morning anchor on CBS3. They desired a return to normalcy. Traffic and weather reports soon returned to the morning news and content unrelated to 9/11 was soon weaved into their broadcasts. Caples recalls getting e-mail from viewers that said, "It's good to see you guys smile again."
Slobodzian doesn't recall much debate in the Inquirer newsroom on the amount of coverage they were devoting to 9/11 stories, but says some readers questioned the choice of their stories. For example, he says the Inquirer received complaints about articles that questioned the validity of the search for weapons of mass destruction in the ensuing wars.
Timmins says news consumers "don't make the demands on the media that perhaps they should," but can't imagine how they would have reacted if local newscasts maintained their 9/11 coverage for longer than they did. "We needed something to lighten their lives, but I think it went too far."