Last year, nearly everyone went all-out on 9/11 anniversary covers. It was, after all, the 10th anniversary of this enormous — and tragic — landmark day in American history.
But this year is the 11th anniversary. How did papers play the anniversary this year?
NEW YORK CITY NEWSPAPERS
As you might expect, a number of the New York City papers ran full-page pictures. Newsday (circulation 397,973) used a picture of the nighttime light tribute to the original twin towers.
As did Newsday’s sister publication, AM New York (free distribution 345,053).
The Daily News (circulation 579,636) went with a picture of the new tower that’s rising on the site.
And the New York edition of Metro focused on how 9/11 is being taught in schools, to children who aren’t really old enough to remember much about that day.
But check this out: Today’s New York Times:
Did you see 9/11 on page one today? Perhaps you should scroll back up and look again. Or perhaps you shouldn’t bother — because you won’t find it. It’s not there. At least, it’s not on page one today.
Margaret Sullivan — the Times‘ brand-new public editor who just moved over from several years as editor of the Buffalo News — writes in her blog today of the problem posed by this year’s anniversary:
There is an important sense of duty about [putting anniversary stories out on A1], said Wendell Jamieson, the deputy metropolitan editor, but also an effort to bring something new to the readership.
“You look for an angle that has news value,” he said, “and you ask can we mark this day in a creative, exciting and journalistically meaningful way.”
The Times did have an A1 story this past Sunday regarding 9/11, Margaret points out. The angle was the political infighting that still holds up progress on a memorial Ground Zero museum.
But that’s her point. That story had a news angle that merited page-one play. Today, the news angle — other than the fact that, yes, today is the anniversary — is much weaker. Hence, no front-page play. Margaret writes:
This year, editors say, coverage will be modest. A story today describes what is happening around the city. Wednesday’s paper will offer coverage of the reading of the names, an event at which emotional photos are very likely. One of those could easily earn its way to the front page, as editors evaluate the images of the day.
(And, I might add: The anniversary was also not on the front of today’s Los Angeles Times. Nor the Wall Street Journal. The only mention on the front of today’s Washington Post was a small promo at the extreme lower left of the page. So it’s not like the Times was way out in left field today.)
So is this the way it should be? Or did the Times do a disservice to the memory of 9/11 victims by not giving prominent visual play to the anniversary out front today?
At what point does 9/11 cease to merit poster play treatment on page one around the rest of the country? At what point does 9/11 get pushed inside?
That was the topic of a Poynter Institute live chat this afternoon. Margaret and I were the guests. Find a transcript of the chat here.
What follows is just a sampling of papers from around the country…
HUGE PLAY ON TODAY’S FRONT PAGE
I must admit, I was surprised myself that so many papers out there gave the anniversary huge play on page one today. Especially after the massive treatments we saw last year before, during and after the 10th anniversary.
Was this a sense that yes, 9/11 is still fresh in the minds of most readers? Was this some idea that we had to “top” last year’s coverage? Or was this simple inertia?
Or is 9/11 still indeed worthy of near-poster-front treatment?
As we said in the chat today: There is no clear answer to that. Newspaper editing is still very much an art, as opposed to a science. That was apparent today. Boy, was it.
Page one of the San Jose Mercury News (circulation approximately 225,175) was typical for some papers today: A huge picture of the new tower and a story wide enough in scope to actually lead with the raid on Osama bin Laden‘s hideout last year.
At first glance, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch front seems similar: Another picture of the new World Trade Center building.
However, this was a wire project: The picture is from the Associated Press, as is the story — one that got wide play today, about the interjection of politics in annual 9/11 observances.
Average daily circulation for the Post-Dispatch is 187,992.
The Star-Ledger of Newark — obviously much closer to New York City — used a huge amount of real estate today on a picture and story that emphasized the memorial around the site of the original towers.
Average daily circulation for the Star-Ledger is 278,940.
This four-column by length-of-the-page treatment by the Los Angeles Daily News — which also ran in all the Daily News‘ sister papers on the west coast — is just the sort of keepsake-like, near-poster-like treatment I didn’t expect to see this year.
That doesn’t mean it’s bad. That doesn’t mean the Daily News was wrong with its approach. It just means it’s different from what I thought we’d see today. My impression was that we all put so much emphasis on 9/11 last year — and put so many resources into presentations — that it wouldn’t be quite as big a deal on page one this year.
And again, that was the case for many papers. But not for these.
Average daily circulation for the Daily News is 94,016.
The folks at the Gannett Design Studio in Asbury Park cooked up an illustration that draws a parallel between the Twin Towers and the number “11.”
Average daily circulation for the Asbury Park Press is 98,032.
In Appleton, Wis. — a long, long way from New York — the Post-Crescent also played with numbers, ran its main story in two columns — to evoke the image of the Twin Towers — and reversed the entire thing out of black.
Circulation for the Appleton paper: 38,244.
Here’s another poster-like treatment from a small paper — in this case, the Times-News of Twin Falls, Idaho, circulation 18,244.
A white background for this one. But still, the story in two tall columns of grey. Also, note: The paper pulled its orange branding color out of its nameplate today.
And while lots of papers ran that AP story about politicans who make appearances at 9/11 memorial events, the Advertiser of Montgomey, Ala. — circulation 32,847 — actually made those very politicians the visual focus of page one today.
Which gave the story a little more immediacy, from a news point of view. This is more a news analysis story and less of a generic-feeling anniversary story. Or, at least, that’s the impression the reader gets from this visual.
That’s good… if you want a news analysis of the 9/11 anniversary. It’s bad, I suppose, if you want poster treatment that would address your emotional needs.
USE OF BREAKING NEWS IMAGERY FROM 9/11
It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to these huge 9/11 displays today. Hey, I was an editor that day. I worked hard, as did my staff, under very trying conditions. And whenever I stop and think about that day, I feel a tightness in my chest. I can get very emotional about 9/11.
Nothing pushes my buttons like actual pictures from that day, of towers smoldering. That’s why I can’t tell you I’m unprepared to see the lead art that appeared on the next three pages. It’s probably more accurate to admit I’m not sure I’ll ever be prepared to see these pictures.
I’ll give the folks at the Morning Telegraph of Tyler, Texas — circulation 26,155 — this much: “Old scars” was the perfect headline to run with that picture.
But that page also sums up some of my reservations about giving 9/11 such huge play on page one today. Sure, that’s a lot of real estate. But then look at the skybox promos: There’s a local politics story, a administrative-like angle on the big college football team and a golf story that didn’t even get a headline.
If the anniversary was big enough to merit that much space on the front, would it also not have merited dumping those skyboxes? Won’t “Old scars” sell more papers today than, say, “Aggies discuss SEC move”? If not, then why give “Old scars” so much play?
This presentation by the Gazette of Gastonia, N.C. — which I’ve featured here in the blog several times over the past month or so — was built around a moody shot of the New York City skyline, featuring the Twin Towers. Thankfully, still intact. So the effect — on me, at least — is less gut-wrenching and more melancholy.
From a pure design standpoint, that page suffers from competing lead art. If you’re going to play 9/11 that large, then the centerpiece art — in this case, file art of a bike race — needs to be played down quite a bit more. In addition, the nameplate would have popped more had it been left white.
Despite these flaws, Gastonia came up with a very moody result. One of my favorites of the day, in fact. Average daily circulation for the Gazette is 24,354.
The Tennessean led today with a great story about some of the same issues we’re talking about here today in the blog: How do we — or how should we, as a society or as a nation — remember 9/11 as time goes on?
Lead art was another gut-wrenching shot from 11 years ago. With a photo from Pearl Harbor morticed into it.
Average daily circulation of the Nashville Tennessean is 118,589.
A COLLECTION OF NICE SKYBOX TREATMENTS
We just saw Gastonia, which put a large photo atop page one but then refered from that to its 9/11 anniversary story inside.
Perhaps that’s closer to what I might have expected today. Or pushed for, had I been in a newsroom last night.
This skybox from the Tribune Eagle of Cheyenne, Wyo — circulation 14,267 — was very simple and very effective.
Granted, that same skybox could have played atop A1 on Memorial Day or Veterans’ Day or the Fourth of July. But I thought this worked pretty well today.
Slightly less effective — because it’s difficult to see the “9-11” against the grass — but nice because it was local was this above-the-nameplate treatment in today’s Herald-Leader of Lexington, Ky.
Average daily circulation for the Herald-Leader: 92,626.
The Daily Journal of Vineland, N.J., went with an illustration depicting the pre-9/11 skyline of New York…
…while the 10,802-circulation Lufkin (Texas) News went with a recent nightime shot of the city…
…and the 19,900-circulation Press-Tribune of Nampa, Idaho, went with a daytime shot.
My favorite skybox treatment of the day, however, was this lovely one atop today’s News & Record of Greensboro, N.C., showing a flower placed at the Ground Zero memorial and fountains in New York City.
Average daily circulation for the News & Record is 57,274.
Here’s what all those front pages look like in their entirety. Click on any of them for a larger view.
PAPERS THAT FOUND A LOCAL ANGLE
The best way to play any anniversary — whether a tragic one like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor or a fun one like a big sports event or the first man on the moon — is by finding a terrific local angle. And then playing that angle for all you can on page one.
We’ve seen a few of these already. But a modest example today might be this stand-along picture of a forest of flags that make up a local 9/11 memorial.
The picture is by staffer Steve Griffin of the Salt Lake Tribune. Average daily circulation for the Tribune is 110,546.
Similarly, the folks at tbt* — the youth-oriented tabloid published by the Tampa Bay Times of St. Petersburg, Fla — played up an interview with a local man who was on the 68th floor of one of the towers that day.
The Tampa Bay Times itself also started this story out front today, but the big visual pop today was a photo of the new WTC tower. Not nearly as effective, I think.
Similarly, the Observer of Fayetteville, N.C. — circulation 49,163 — found three people who explained how 9/11 changed their lives forever: A mother, a soldier and a young woman.
Find the story here by staffer Michael Futch.
Earlier this week, I read a story in the Stamford (Conn.) Advocate that left me completely stunned. It was another of those gut-wrenching, tightness-in-the-chest moments I mentioned earlier when something mashes that emotional button inside me marked 9/11.
The story is about a family that — ten years after the fact — discovered that the husband/dad did not die instantly when a plane rammed into the World Trade Center. In fact, he survived. And sought a way out of the tower with 11 others.
This note — in the man’s handwriting — was found after the disaster. The spot at upper left tests positive for the man’s blood.
The Hartford Courant picked up that story for its front-page centerpiece today. A smart call, I’d say.
Average daily circulation for the Hartford Courant is 132,006.
And finally: This front page from the Courier News of Somerville, N.J.
In addition to a fabulous picture by staffer Augusto F. Menezes of a beautiful 9/11 memorial in Jersey City, this page features something very interesting. Perhaps you’ve seen this suggestion before, but I haven’t:
The idea proposed by the architect of that monument and reported today by staffer Larry Higgs: Sept. 11 is a day we honor the victims of the attacks. But how about making Sept. 10 a day we honor the lives of those victims? As opposed to the deaths of those victims.
An interesting notion. And one that gives us a great stopping point today.
SO, WAS THE NEW YORK TIMES CORRECT
TODAY IN PLAYING THE STORY INSIDE?
Yes and no. I think the Times might have put something outside today. A refer, at the very least. Perhaps.
But the Times is not a paper that places stories on A1 just because readers expect to find them there. Stories must earn their way on page one.
Today, that didn’t happen. And you gotta love ’em for staying true to what the Times is.
At the very least, though, what we put on page one — and why and how we play it — are things that should never become automatic functions. We should discuss them and pitch our ideas and make our arguments. And construct those arguments around what our readers need to see. tomorrow.
And we should do that every day. Because that’s the way the best decisions will get made. In the long run, at least.
You can’t have too much discussion.
All these front pages are from the Newseum. Of course.
For more reading:
And previously, here in the blog: