the media of september 11

Assignment questions: sept-11-media-questions.pdf

On the World Wide Web we can read text, look at images, play interactive games, exchange music files, listen to live radio broadcasts, watch steaming video, download files, upload files, and, of course, search for a wide variety of information—much of which would have taken many hours to find (if it could be found) in 1994 when the Web was popularized. With its growth and the growth of its user base, the World Wide Web has transformed the way millions of people get information—especially news. The terrorist attack of 11 September 2001 saw people scrambling to find news from many different mediums: TV, radio, telephone, Internet—but it was the Internet, and many of the major news Web sites, that succeeded in yoking together the different media in one unique attempt to get information out to the viewers and create for the users an experience as close as possible to reality .

A problem, however, was that in the immediate hours after the attacks many people could not get to the news Web sites they so desperately wanted to view: "43% of Internet users say they had at least some trouble accessing the Web sites they wanted to consult for news about the attacks – 15% say they had a lot of trouble in the first hours getting to a Web site" (Rainie 13). Pamela Parker and Christopher Saunders of report that " saw a staggering increase in users between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. webHancer’s panel, which normally registers a few hundred users on the site at any given moment, spiked to a level of 11,000 page requests shortly after the initial attack on the World Trade Center; then to 22,000 page requests. . . "(1). The effect of the rapid increase of requests took its toll on download speed: "Shortly after 9 a.m., the firm reported that median page load time on spiked from 3 seconds to 27 seconds—which is often greater than most browsers will tolerate without timing out. Atlanta based, likewise, saw an increase from a median nine-second page load to more than 30 seconds" (Parker 2). These findings support the data supplied by comScore Networks, "a research firm in Reston, Virginia, that provides Internet usage intelligence to the public" (Rainie 3), which reported that "on September 11 and 12 traffic to grew 680% to 11.7 million unique visitors, [and] traffic to grew 236% to 9.5 million unique visitors. . ." (Rainie 9).

What is perhaps most interesting about these numbers is that while the use of the major news Web sites went up in the first hours after the attacks—"Immediately after the attack, some 6000 users per minute used Goggle to find CNN" (Wiggins 3)—"130 million people around the world used the Internet, [which was] down 18% from 159 million on the immediately preceding Tuesday, presumably reflecting heavy TV viewing of the events of the day" (Rainie 8). Slow page loads and a dearth of fast-breaking, up-to-the-second information, was blatantly missing from the Web in the hours after the attacks, but was present on both television and radio, where newscasters struggled with finding information and corrected mis-information. Viewers could see and and listeners could hear the voices of the witnesses to the events, and could sit in a room without having to wait for the news to be downloaded onto their computer. The event was given to them; it did not require their immediate participation (as did accessing a web site). In the immediate wake of breaking news, the Web could not dislodge TV from its top spot as news-provider: "It is important to stress that for all of the online activity that focused on the terror assaults, this was not a breakthrough moment for use of the Internet compared to other technologies, as some have suggested. There was not a flight to new technologies from TV as a news source, or from the phone as a communications tool. Indeed, there was heavy reliance on TV and the telephone even among the most committed and active Internet users" (Rainie 3). Internet use and reliance would change over time as people began to drift away from TV, which became somewhat repetitive in its coverage, and could not offer people the ability to interact either through email, chat rooms, video, and audio.

But the news sites, in giving people the ability to interact with the event were effectively attempting to re-create the event for the user, and provided users with the ability to continue creating the event themselves. As they searched, read, and posted, the attacks became not just about the attacks themselves, but about peoples’ reactions to the attacks. It was in attempting to show what really happened in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, that we saw remediation beginning, because the "real" event was no longer just planes filled with people hitting buildings and killing the people who were in them. It was about how people reacted to the event, as well.

According to Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, "It is easy to see that hypermedia applications are always explicit acts of remediation: they import earlier media into a digital space in or to critique and refashion them" (53). The goal of hypermedia to "get past the limits of representation and to achieve the real. . . . [Here] the real is defined in terms of the viewer’s experience; it is that which would evoke an immediate (and therefore authentic) emotional response" (Bolter 53). In discussing the terrorist attacks, we are forced to discuss the media in which we learned information about the attacks, because the majority of us were not in New York City, Washington D.C., or Pennsylvania, when they took place. And for those who got their information on the Web—who read transcripts, saw videos, listened to radio broadcasts, the reality of the event became the experience of the medium which we were using: "The excess media becomes an authentic experience, not in the sense that it corresponds to an external reality, but rather precisely because it does not feel compelled to refer to anything beyond itself" (Bolter 53-4).

Today we are going to consider how different media affect how we experience events by viewing the September 11 attacks through different media: radio, online video, screen shots of web pages, and print. Please follow the instructions to the links below.

NPR’s Morning Edition coverage, part one (Real Media file): begin listening at 11:00 minutes in and listen to 5 – 10 minutes of coverage.
This is the first hour and a half of National Public Radio’s coverage of the initial attacks. You can find a archive of NPR’s coverage by going to NPR: A Nation Transformed.
CNN’s September 11 Video Archive: Watch the videos from Sept 11, 2001 in the first row, the second row, and the first video in the third row.
screen shots
From Shock to Spectacle: Remediating the Terrorist Attack of September 11, 2001: Look at all the web site screen shots by using the time links on the right
This is from an unfinished project I worked on several years ago.
Various print media will be provided in class.




Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000.
Google. "Google Search Statistics from 9/11/2001." 5 May 2002.
Kramer, Staci D. "Accessibility in Times of Crisis." Online Journalism Review 25 Oct. 2001. 6 Dec. 2001.
Langfield, Amy. "Democrtatizing Journalism." Online Journalism Review 13 Nov. 2001. 6 Dec. 2001.
Lasica, J.D. "A Scorecard for Net News Ethics." Online Journalism Review 20 Sept. 2001. 6 Dec. 2001.
—. "Online News on a Tightrope." Online Journalism Review 1 Nov 2001. 6 Dec. 2001.
Parker, Pamela, and Christopher Saunders. "Tragedy Results in Web News Gridlock." 11 Sept 2001. 5 May 2002.,,12_882061,00.html.
Rainie, Lee, and Bente Kalsnes. "The Commons of the Tragedy: How the Internet was Used by Millions after the Terror attacks to Grieve, Console, Share News, and Debate the Country’s Response." Pew Internet & Amertican Life Project 10 Oct. 2001. 5 May 2002.
Schatz, Aaron. "In Wake of Disaster, Nation Searches for News and Nostradamous." The Lycos 50 Daily Report. 12 Sept. 2001. 5 May 2001.
—. "Special Report: ‘The Peal Harbor of Terrorism.’" The Lycos 50 Daily Report. 11 Sept. 2001. 5 May 2001.
Wiggins, Richard E. "The Effects of September 11 on the Leading Search Engine." First Monday 6.10 (2001): 5 May 2002.

back to top

Comments are closed.