I dread the 11th," says WTTG-TV Washington News Director Katherine Green, even as she prepares for the unprecedented storytelling opportunities that come with the commemoration of the most vivid and catastrophic event in the nation's memory.
In Washington, the events of the week of Sept. 11 range from 9/11 memorials to town meetings to a primary election to the Redskins season opener. "We're calling it 'the Perfect Storm,'" Green says.
In New York, an online poll for WPIX-TV concluded that nearly nine of 10 viewers planned to watch none of the anniversary coverage. But the unscientific poll will have no influence on the Tribune station's own extensive coverage.
In fact, this may be the most widely observed anniversary in history—seen, like the devastation itself, by hundreds of millions in this country and others over local and network television. Amid wall-to-wall network coverage, station executives in those directly affected areas say they will try to stay local, with deference from the networks. Much of the coverage will look forward as well as back, news executives say, focusing on the rebuilding of lives as well as city blocks. Stations will explore the individual and collective physical and mental health of the city in preproduced packages, live memorials and town meetings; the government response and private contributions; and especially those who died and those who remain.
"By design," notes WNBC(TV) Station Manager Dan Forman, "what we want to do in New York is different from what the network wants to show the nation. There will be events in Washington and Shanksville [Pa., where hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed] that will coincide with events here. But New York will be at the core of our coverage." Although the networks will likely cover the myriad of events at Ground Zero in Manhattan, they may pass on events in New York's other boroughs, Forman notes.
Similarly, other New York stations expect to depart a bit from network programming for commemorations around the metro area, and the networks could turn to their stations' news departments for some New York coverage.
Schedules for Sept. 11 haven't been finalized at network-owned WABC-TV and WCBS-TV, but both said they will offer a combination of station- and network-generated programming—including the president's speech that night, and, in the case of CBS stations, the 60 Minutes
interview with the president. But the emphasis will be decidedly local.
Fox's New York stations, WNYW(TV) and WWOR-TV, will combine satellite and microwave resources and share some background material but will air distinct programming using their own talent, Fox said. The stations say they will run no advertising that day, although that's probably a moot point because it appears not many advertisers want to be part of the commemoration.
Stations without network news affiliations, like broadcaster WPIX-TV, and cable's New York 1 and Newschannel 8 in Washington will get some pool or news service feeds but will be working without a net on anniversary day. Newschannel 8 News Director Alex Likowski sees an opportunity to demonstrate hyper-localism. "Obviously, New York experienced tragedy on a greater scale. But our audience is more closely connected with what happened at the Pentagon."
Said New York 1 News Director Steve Paulus, "The networks will devote a lot of time to Shanksville and Washington. We'll report it, but we won't spend a lot of time outside New York." Both local cable nets will begin 9/11 coverage early in the month.
WTTG-TV is not relying on Fox News Channel, as on 9/11. "We're making our own plans," Green says, "and we'll have our own anchors in New York City."
WJLA-TV Washington plans a two-hour special on Sept. 10. Stories of Hope: A September 11 Remembrance
will focus on the 9/11 experience in and around the Pentagon. Most of the anniversary day will be devoted to network programming.
In the Johnstown-Altoona, Pa., DMA near Shanksville, stations plan to stay heavily local with some network programming.