For those in reach of a TV, the images of horror and destruction last Tuesday began to accumulate at the speed of electronic journalism. Fortunately, as the minutes and hours accumulated, those images began also to be mixed with others of heroism, sacrifice and service.
For those listening to the radio on their way to work, one eyewitness to the first plane hit was being interviewed when he suddenly became an on-air witness to the second strike. "Oh my God! Oh my God!" he kept repeating numbly. The evocations of the Hindenburg broadcast's anguished "Oh, the humanity" were immediate and inescapable.
Also immediate and inescapable was the effort of the broadcast and cable industries to cover the tragedy. With most local New York TV station transmitters wiped out in the attack, cable immediately became a lifeline, and broadcasting and cable true partners, in providing local news and information. Fiercely competitive news networks dropped the gloves and agreed to share whatever information they got. Broadcasters around the country pitched in to raise millions for relief efforts.
The combined power of technology and people to move information was extraordinary. And the industry continues to do a herculean job of covering this ever-expanding story. There have been some stumbles along the way, but they are understandable in an operation running at full speed on little sleep and with its eyes on the next development. The coverage that we saw was blessedly light on attempts at melodramatic description. The drama of the event was, unfortunately, entirely sufficient.
For the media, it was—and is—the largest abandonment of their commercial base and massing of communications resources since the JFK assassination. And this time around, cable is a player, and a key partner, in the effort.
It has already begun that work with the heartrending footage of family members holding up pictures of their missing wives, husbands, parents and children, and in the profiles of casualties and interviews with family members. A caution here: Such interviews can be cathartic for survivor and viewer, but they must be handled carefully and used judiciously or they cross the line into exploitation.
Once the grim work of accounting for the dead is completed, however, we'd like to see the industry spearhead an effort to collect the pictures of each one of them. That collection would include two employees of our parent company, Cahners: Jeff Mladenik and Andrew Curry Green, executives with eLogic, the company that helps put this magazine on the Web. Perhaps the pictures could be transferred to tape and presented as part of a memorial service in Washington or New York. They could also or alternatively be collected on a Web site and linked to as many other sites as possible.
We would like to see the defining visual image become the faces of our fellow Americans, not the ugly face of terrorism.