Chronicling 9/11 Anniversary Online

By: Wayne Robins

Booting up the computer at 11:45 p.m. EST, Sept. 10, 2002. A countdown to the New Year’s Eve party from the Dark Side.

A year ago, the unfolding tragedy was seared into consciousness by endless repeats of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers collapsing before our eyes. These last few days, TV, newspapers, magazines, and the Web have been all too ready to package those events to the exclusion of almost all other news. The message from the media seems to be: “It’s spinach. It’s good for you. You need it.”

12:01 a.m. EST, Sept. 11, 2002. Let’s surf, and try not to get wiped out by the pop-up and pop-under ads that lurk behind every click. A grateful nation of editors and others held hostage by the news notes there is a fresh “angle” linked to the anniversary: The President has declared a Code Orange, a heightened level of alert. It’s been on AP for a few hours. I first read about it at BostonHerald.com circa 12:20 a.m.

I’ve already visited the Times-Picayune site, NOLA.com, which has an abundant prepared 9/11 package. I’d check out the Bourbon Street Webcam, but I have many links to go before I sleep.

Most of the Web sites I visit are still carrying material with a Sept. 10 dateline. (Of course, everywhere in the U.S. but the East Coast, it still is Sept. 10). I go to the Chicago Tribune Web site, tribune.com, where I encounter a slight delay as I look up my username and password. Some registration-required sites, like Louisville’s www.courierjournal.com, appear to have suspended registration requirements for the anniversary (“automatic guest access” flashed on my screen) — a thoughtful idea. There was word that CourierJournal.com was going to take a blog approach beginning at 12:01 a.m., but I couldn’t find much even post-sunrise CDT.

Once I got on Tribune.com, I was shocked by the main story from 9/10: “Bush’s Support Fades As Nation Moves On.” First, I was shocked by the hed from a news organization that was once — perhaps some years ago — a virtual house organ for the mainstream Republican Party. Second, the story I read showed little support for the headline’s assertion.

Some newspaper sites actually wrestled with some of the thoughtful questions about America’s role that get shouted down in the talk TV circus. By virtue of its virtue and worldwide readership, The Christian Science Monitor could put on the cover of its special section the question: “Is America the Good Guy?” You can download the handsome PDF package at http://www.csmonitor.com/pdf/911SpecialEdition.pdf.

The Miami Herald site (reached through Miami.com) gave thoughtfulness a go with much more mixed results. Some were understandable: There was an important statewide primary election and a balloting debacle redolent of 2000 that naturally trumped 9/11 memorial displays. But there is also the challenge of navigating through the chaotic Knight Ridder/Real Cities template.

Being an admirer of Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. even when the homily oozes from his prose as from an overfilled vat of molasses, I was eager to read his column that was one of the anchors of the site’s discussion boards. The discussion board asked: “Do you agree with Leonard Pitts?” Sometimes. Much of the time, I thought. Guess I better read that column! Kept clicking on the link. What I got was an error message. So I back-clicked to the Miami.com home, where I was able to read Pitt’s Sept. 7, 2002 column, “We’ve Learned We Can No Longer Escape Who We Are.” Having read the column, I was perplexed by the question posed on the site: “Do you agree with Leonard Pitts, that although American [sic] was dealt a harsh blow on Sept. 11, we are a strong and resilient people?” But that’s not what Pitts’ column is about: It’s about how the narrow, special-interest ways Americans defined themselves before 9/11/01 does not matter in the larger scheme of things. Another question on the discussion board was: “Do you agree with America?” — such a sub-literate teaser for an opinion survey that I realized that, not for the first time, I had spent too much time in South Florida.

So I went to Los Angeles, latimes.com, to be exact. It was 8:40 a.m. EST, which meant it was Tribune company convergence time. I clicked on the latimes.com link to KTLA/TV5, which was carrying a live video feed from New York, which of course came from New York’s WPIX-TV, otherwise known as WB11 — which was on my TV with the sound off in the next room. The feed ran about 30 seconds behind the actual TV, but otherwise wasn’t bad. I kept getting interrupted by Real Networks messages to upgrade my player for free, but every time I clicked, I discovered I already had the latest edition of the free player, and got sent to the paid premium upgrade site. In a way it was a relief to see the Real Player people unashamedly invoking their sacred duty to make money, even on 9/11, albeit in a galling and totally irritating way.

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