How the media can help us remember 9/11

This morning, I was listening to Morning Edition on National Public Radio. Host Steve Inskee announced the time was about 8:45 Eastern Standard Time, which I thought was unusual, as the hour typically isn’t given because the program is being listened to in different time zones. Inskee continued by reminding us that at 8:46 eight years ago, the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

The story that followed was from StoryCorp, a project that lets people tell their own stories. This story was from retired firefighter John Vigiano Sr., whose two sons died on 9/11. One was a firefighter and one was a police officer. Both were going to the World Trade Center to help when Vigiano last talked with each of them.

I listened to the father tell the story of his sons growing up, deciding on careers, and going to provide service on 9/11. I heard his great pride and love of them.

Later, I thought of how much more compelling his telling of that story was than what often happens with media coverage. Journalists often think they can tell the story better than those who have lived the story. The journalists collect quotes and anecdotes. They determine the way the story will be told and often include only a few sound bites, preferring to tell the story themselves.

npr_911This StoryCorp story is an excellent example of what the media is allowing more of — letting people tell their own stories.

Compare the reporters’ story about the Vigiano brothers to John Vigiano Sr. telling his story. This link goes to the transcript of Vigiano, but you can listen to the audio story, too.

Viagiano telling of his sons is more powerful than the reporter telling the story.

Journalists play a special role in conveying information and telling stories. They can blend the many sources and views of a story. They can provide context and background to explain complex stories. And often they are ones to discover the story in the first place.

But sometimes what journalists must do is find the right person, ask the one question or provide the prompt, and let the person tell the story.

As teachers of those who are learning media skills, we need to provide the opportunity for students to hear and see those StoryCorp-kind of personal accounts and include assignments that require students to capture people telling their own stories.

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