50 Years Later: How News Orgs Are Remembering the JFK Assassination Digitally

In ten days, we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death, doing much of it through the Internet — essays, photos and multimedia remembrances — and some through the medium by which thousands of Americans learned that the beloved president had passed, TV.

Despite the darkness that fell over our country on Nov. 22, 1963, I’ve often read and heard that the wall-to-wall television news coverage of the assassination was something of a comfort to mourning Americans, a means of processing the unknown, the unexpected, and the unprecedented.

But since the Web lives on forever, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at how modern-day major media companies and publishers are commemorating the anniversary digitally and using technology that was inconceivable at the time.

NBC News has put together a really impressive interactive website devoted solely to Kennedy. They debuted the site last week to promote an upcoming special called “Where Were You: The Day JFK Died” hosted by broadcast legend Tom Brokaw. NBC’s project consists of 275 video clips chronicling the assassination, the Kennedy legacy and family, and of course, the conspiracy theories (NBCNews.com’s executive editor told Capital New York that this project would be a good segue into a more heavily interactive news experience for NBC News readers).

ABC News has ensured that all of its JFK coverage is mobile- and tablet-friendly. The Disney-owned media company will offer live streaming of the 50th anniversary ceremony at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas and run a live blog — with reporting of the events of Nov. 22 as if it were 1963. ABC News’ Digital desk will also compile ABC’s archived videos of assassination coverage (which they say will all be shareable via social media), an interactive Kennedy family tree, and a Dealey Plaza “zoom interactive.”

The Dallas Morning News has been running a yearlong Kennedy remembrance campaign online, dedicating much of its resources in 2013 to the JFK 50 project. Their digital approach to the tragedy has been extremely hands-on yet sensitive, and they have been wise to cover the issue comprehensively rather than back away, not allowing what some still label the City of Hate to be unfairly judged by an unfortunate historical event. DMN reporters have asked for reader input on JFK 50, covered local events relating to the assassination, reported stories about important figures and provided tons of photos and video. I’ve followed their online “This Week in 1963” feature and will be picking up the iBook they’re publishing of exclusive DMN reporters’ notes.

The New York Times published Nov. 11 a fascinating graphic called “Evolving Portraits of J.F.K,” which compares the vernacular with which history textbook writers have described Kennedy’s policies and legacy over time. Taking issues like civil rights, the Cuban missile crisis and Vietnam, the Times created the interactive in conjunction with an article claiming that “the President John F. Kennedy students learn about today is not their grandparents’ J.F.K.”

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram decided to let the newspaper from 50 years ago speak for itself, reprinting their “page ones” from the assassination, as well as posting them online. And, the Houston Chronicle is simply asking their readers for their help with producing digital content and photo essays for the anniversary.

This is not at all an exhaustive list, but it gives you a good idea of what journalists are doing for the anniversary. I imagine it’ll be a good case study in how the media can/should tell the story of a national tragedy as mobile and digital news become more prolific. It has to make you wonder — what tools will journalists have at their disposal for the 100th anniversary of JFK’s death?