For the past few weeks I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a post almost as cliche as “Why I Write,” or something along those lines. I had this whole spiel about about writing for myself and putting ideas on paper and creating a full story.
But the reason I haven’t been able to put those ideas together only just dawned on me. I do write for me, but I do so knowing I can’t truly reach everyone that needs to be reached.
A good friend of mine, and a mentor, Craig Kanalley, just posted this little bit about how 9/11 inspired him to become a journalist. It’s open, it’s honest, and I get it. Across the country it was the biggest most gripping story for weeks, and a number of highly regarded journalistic pieces came out of it. I now work with people who have received some of the most prestigious awards in journalism for their coverage of the tragedy. As Craig said, there was such great media coverage that it was often hard not to watch.
But, for me, 9/11 isn’t so easy.
As a bit of background, I’m from Long Island. I’m from the type of suburb where fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, cousins, friends and neighbors worked in the towers. The type of suburb where even if you didn’t know someone in the towers, you had a relative or a friend who worked in NYC and you worried about (which isn’t a phenomenon limited to Long Island, but by sheer proximity the concentration is high). It’s also the type of suburb where they didn’t tell middle school students what happened, and instead let them find out on their own. The type of place where you didn’t know why students where getting pulled out of class and teachers were crying or dumbfounded.
What journalism couldn’t do on that day was paint more than just a picture of what happened in downtown New York. It could accurately display the fear and unknowing gripping those close-by that didn’t even know if they should be worrying. In many ways, that’s why cable news just kept replaying footage of the planes striking the towers until someone literally had to tell them to knock it off. In the following days there would be great pieces of journalism to arise, stories of heroes, victims, and the events that led to what happened. But the story took the shape of what the media made it take, not because of some decision made by media companies or anything malicious or even negligent. But simply because that’s how news works, the story developed on national level as something around the stories and people they could find. What it lacked in many ways was the opinions and feelings of real people, unedited. Sure there were interviews, comments et cetera, but at the end of the day there’s always an editor.
This is why 9/11 helped me fall in love with social media before it even really existed.
Just as Craig says it’s something that made him realize the value of swarming a big story, it made me realize that those affected most deeply by a major event need a place to be heard. Airing the opinions of everyone is true objectivity. Though as a journalist you certainly have a duty to curate the best and most accurate information, you also have a duty to acknowledge that your voice isn’t the only one out there. That’s often where traditional media fails without knowing it.
So on that day, I lost some of my faith in traditional journalism.
I’m not saying that 9/11 would have been an easier if Twitter had existed. The effects of those tweets would have fundamentally altered the way many people look at the world. I’m not even saying the journalists didn’t do the best they could in the circumstances. But in the wake of the events of that day there would have been an outpouring of earnest emotional content and storytelling across Facebook, Twitter and other platforms that journalists simply weren’t able to touch at the time.
So I get why 9/11 inspired many journalists, but as someone who was scared to death on that day that something could have happened to my mother or father, I truly think journalists failed some of the people who needed help, and were blinded by going after the biggest, most enticing, nation captivating stories. It’s what they knew how to do.
Social media plays no favorites. When your friends update their statuses to say their families are okay, they’re better journalists for you than the ones on television. I decided to renew my faith in journalism with this tool at hand, knowing that there was at least more of a possibility of reaching those that otherwise wouldn’t be reached, and of connecting people who need to be connected. It’s a decision I’ll never regret.
(Disclaimer: As is stated in the description, these views are mine and mine alone. This is somewhat emotionally charged for me, and I apologize if this even potentially offends anyone, especially those who lost someone dear to them in 9/11. It’s a difficult subject to broach.)