September 11, 2001 started off like any other day in the news. Morning shows were shutting it down for the day; assignment desk editors were changing shifts; general assignment reporters were preparing for news meetings.
And then the clock struck 8:46 a.m. eastern time.
From that second on, we know the horrifying details and remember the chilling visuals. Everyone in the world has a “Where were you then” story etched in his/her mind forever.
One other thing changed on that day: the media itself.
For the PRNewsers out there, here are a few ways that media — the way the news is reported, disseminated, and consumed — changed thirteen years ago.
(H/T: Newseum for the collage)
1. UGM. That’s jargon for a term we all understand now — user-generated media. The wonder of the flip-cam (or the antiquated video camera) gained momentum on 9/11. News stations everywhere wanted visuals, sounds, and experiences of what was happening on Manhattan streets.
Even though NYC is the world’s number one media market, reporters were craving “man on the street” perspectives because of a desire for understanding (and a lack of specific facts). On-air pleas were made, and the public answered in droves. Today, it’s expected that someone’s shaky-handed video will make national news every week. On that day, it meant something more.
2. Coverage. Take any national morning show: it includes nice lifestyle fluff pieces, great weather eye candy, the occasional tear-jerker, and a focus on current events. After 9/11, however, each show needed a near-daily segment on foreign affairs — specifically terrorism. According to ADT Research’s five years after 9/11 report, number of minutes devoted to coverage of foreign policy was up 102%, coverage of armed conflict rose 69%, and discussions of terrorism rose 135%. Years after that report, nothing has changed thanks to ISIS/ISIL and their ideological brethren. Welcome to the new normal.
3. Social media. Believe it or not, this didn’t exist in 2001. Real-time news then meant that when a national network reported it, everyone else had the story and its respective local angles. Today, a tweet will go to the top of trends or a video will go viral — then we all have news. Imagine how different the day would have been if social media had existed when the planes hit the towers.
4. Online news. Competition was diverse, but the big news folks still had a one-up on everyone in terms of content. On that day, you had to go to the places that curated news to get updates. Today you can go anywhere a search engine will take you. Did you know that Google has credited 9/11 with compelling them to surface more timely results in search? Every website is focused on search now due to the public’s insatiable appetite for news — an appetite that changed in a profound way on that fateful day.
5. Respect. Ratings have always inspired inter-network battles that resemble gladiators fighting lions in the Roman Coliseum. It’s the reason they exist. But when the planes struck One World Trade, no one was talking about “the best news team” or claiming that “you will find this only here”, because in the moment that stuff didn’t matter. America got back to doing what it was supposed to do — reporting the news, unbiased and unfettered, and discovering the reality on the ground.
We are told to never forget, but I challenge people on this day to try to remember what things were like before so we can appreciate how much they’ve changed. Maybe then we can stop bickering about what we don’t like about the media and start focusing more on what we do like. Filler will always help the news business run, but if we hold our outlets accountable then they might just do a better job of trimming the fat.
Just a thought.