Remembering incidents like Sept. 11 remind us of the terrible losses. But blogging about tragedies gives them a deeper, personal meaning.
When we reach the anniversary of a tragedy like Sept. 11, or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we always hear one question: Where were you when you found out? Blogging about tragedies can certainly answer that question. But they can also give a deeply personal peak into the people who experienced it.
Each of us faces tragedy in our own way. Your way might be similar to mine or it might be completely different.
How close we are to the tragedy — either in proximity or in terms of being related to those who dealt with it firsthand — also makes a big difference.
Blogging has been around a relatively short time in our history. So unless bloggers have spoken with people who experienced disasters or witnessed tragedies prior to 2000 or so, it’s hard to find posts that cover those subjects.
This blog, for example, began in 2004. In some respects, that doesn’t seem that long ago. (In others, it feels like a long time.)
One of America’s biggest tragedies, the Sept. 11 terror attacks, happened before this blog began. One of the biggest shocks that happened when I was in high school, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, happened 17 years before I wrote my first post.
The assassinations of Kennedy and King occurred even before I was born.
But we know that when something happened doesn’t impact alone whether you form an opinion about it. In some cases, how long ago something occurred can create a bigger sense of curiosity.
So blogging about tragedies like these can be valuable. They can help the blogger express those feelings and ask those questions. They can help the reader see a potentially different perspective about the tragedy.
Most of those who read this blog, I’d bet, were alive when the Sept. 11 terror attacks happened. The first time I wrote about Sept. 11 was the first Sept. 11 that came after this blog began, back in 2004. I wrote about how I learned of the attacks. I also wrote about the moment I realized it had to be terrorism. (Different people have different “moments of realization.” I suppose I chose not to immediately assume the worst in that case. But an old newsreel about another airplane crash in New York City initially influenced my delay in assuming it had to be terrorism.)
As we approached the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I joined Project 2,996. It was an effort to remember each of the victims who lost their lives during the attack. In explaining my reasoning for being part of it, I gave you another peek behind the curtain in to my experience on that day.
I didn’t know the man I chose to write about, Josh Birnbaum, or anyone in his family. But my station sent a reporter to New York to speak to a few families of victims. I edited promos for those stories, which we ran the February after the attack. I was really struck by Josh’s mother and her tearful recollections of that morning. They stuck with me…even years later.
So my post about Birnbaum, “Remembering Josh: ‘I Need To Tell You…,’” told his story and recalled what his mother said about a painful but cherished phone call he made before he died.
I learned things about him I hadn’t heard in the interview of that news story we ran all those years ago. I gained new perspective on him through that tragedy.
The Challenger disaster
I was in high school when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded moments after liftoff in January 1986. On the 20th anniversary of that tragedy, I wrote a post about it. I told you where I was when I learned of it. Oddly enough, I had made an innocent joke about the shuttle blowing up about an hour or so before it happened.
We had no idea such a thing would happen. By then, shuttle launches had become commonplace enough that most networks no longer carried them live.
CNN, which was still covering news as it happened back then, did. Their viewers saw the horrible moment as it happened.
Broadcast networks had to scramble to get on the air with a special report after the fact.
I was 16 years old. But I could still give a perspective on that morning. I suspect there might be people younger than I am who’d be interested in what a school-aged boy might think of it. The irony of the innocent joke I made about the space shuttle blowing up might also be a surprise.
The Kennedy assassination
President John F. Kennedy died six years and one day before I was born. But when you’re blogging about tragedies, it doesn’t mean you have to necessarily have lived through one to have a perspective.
I’ve always been fascinated by the Kennedy assassination. Since I work in television, I’m particularly fascinated by the way the networks covered it. By today’s standards, the coverage is primitive. But by the standards of the day, it was cutting edge.
Breaking news coverage on television really experienced its birth on Nov. 22, 1963. The footage of the coverage that we have preserves a moment in time. It gives us a complete timeline of how word spread across the world.
Even though I wasn’t around yet, my mom was. In fact, I asked mom about what she thought about the Kennedy assassination and she recalled the moment she and her sister watched Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald get shot live on television.
“We just thought, ‘Did that really happen?'” she said. “You saw things on The Twilight Zone, weird stuff, but you knew that was just a picture. We couldn’t believe what we saw.”
In that case, I couldn’t give my perspective, but I gave someone else’s. It’s still difficult, but fascinating, to imagine what it was like to witness that back then. Unlike today, when there is so much violence in media and video games, back then, there wasn’t. Those of us who weren’t around then can ponder what a shock to the system that must have been.
The Pearl Harbor attack
I even wrote about an event that happened before my parents were born: the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. That attack by Japan forced the United States into World War II.
So what right do I have blogging about tragedies that predate me that far?
I can still give a perspective on at least one aspect of it: I wrote about the speed (or sluggishness) of news coverage back then. In 1941, I wrote, people didn’t yet have television for breaking news:
“They even turned to newspapers for breaking news, which, by today’s standards of instant information, almost boggles the mind,” I wrote.
By today’s standards, when people now walk around with smartphones that deliver breaking news as it happens straight to their pockets, it does boggle the mind.
If you’re a news junkie or a history buff, reading about how others processed tragedies or learning about how word spread can be fascinating. If you’re blogging about tragedies, don’t get bogged down in it being another anniversary. Offer something new. There must be something you experienced that you haven’t written about before.
There might just be a gem there that would interest your audience even on a subject you’ve written about many times before!