A story of a somber remembrance: Visual commemorative coverage of 9/11

The story of 9/11 was largely told through images—both moving and still. The day following the attacks the New York Times included more than 50 photos in the front section. And in the following months, use of images across the news media remained high. The events of that day have continued to be newsworthy. And the annual anniversary of 9/11 marks a time for the public and news media to re-visit the events of the day and its continued impact.

The way journalists cover—or frame—an event has long been a topic of both academic and professional inquiry. What is relatively new, however, is inquiry into the way journalists cover the observance or anniversary of large-impact events. It is the academic study of what Carolyn Kitch terms “commemorative journalism.”

A joint research project with Britt Christensen examined the 9/11 10-year commemorative coverage with the goal of understanding how the news media visually told the story of 9/11 ten years later, and in doing so, how the media visually framed our collective remembrance of that day.

Through analysis of 170 photographs, we found that coverage was clearly characteristic of commemorative journalism, representing the collective desire to move forward, while remembering the past. In the case of the 9/11 commemorative photos, while tragedy was present (the physical site of the attack) the focus was largely on moving forward (memorials and survivors).

The photographic framing of the 10-year commemorative coverage of 9/11 was a story of a somber remembrance. Rather than focusing on the terrorist (perpetrator) or technical (here’s what happened) frames, the commemorative coverage largely focused on the human element. Findings also indicated that the Thomas E. Franklin photo of New York City fire fighters raising the American flag among the rubble at the World Trade Center has clearly emerged as the “iconic” photo of 9/11.

And while the Franklin photo undoubtedly meets the tenants of iconicity, the sheer number of unique photographs (such as those of the twin towers) used by newspapers reinforced the notion that iconicity—as we have traditionally defined it—is more evasive in the digital era. The World Trade Center was unarguably the overwhelming visual symbol of 9/11, but there is no one particular photo of the World Trade Center from that day that could be considered iconic, thus lending further support for new scholarly consideration of “iconicity.”

But for newspapers, perhaps this is a key point: at a time when the print newspaper is seeing rapid decline, commemorative journalism, especially characterized through photographs, may just find itself as one of the key lasting “values” of the print newspaper—a recorder of history in a time of digital uncertainty.

Dahmen, N. S., & Christensen, B. (2013). 10th anniversary photos of 9/11 framed as collective remembrance. Newspaper Research Journal, 34(2), 106-116.

Learn more about our research: http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/88791293/10th-anniversary-photos-9-11-framed-as-collective-remembrance



Image credit: Raising the Flag at Ground Zero, Thomas E. Franklin of The Record (Bergen County, NJ). September 11, 2001. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ground_Zero_Spirit.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Ground_Zero_Spirit.jpg


One response to “A story of a somber remembrance: Visual commemorative coverage of 9/11

  1. Pingback: Images of Hurricane Katrina | Visual Communication in the Digital Age·

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