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Reflecting On How 9/11 Impacted News Media

President Obama and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attend the September 11 Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Va., on Sept. 11, 2014.
WUWM
President Obama and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attend the September 11 Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Va., on Sept. 11, 2014.

September 11th, 2001 was a defining moment in our nation’s history. Its impact has extended far beyond what we could have imagined at that time. As we near the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we examine how the events of that day have shaped the last two decades.

Many people remember the images of that day. Some of us remember watching it in real-time, experiencing these events in a way that hadn't been possible previously. UW-Milwaukee professor Richard Grusin says that coverage has fundamentally impacted news media, our perspectives on news, and the ways we engage with it.

"9/11 was both a culmination of the enthusiasm of this digital explosion that had been happening in the 90s, and a kind of terrifying example of what could happen," Grusin says.

Grusin explains that 9/11 came at a time of remediating media. For example, he says, media like print and photography began to be digitized. He notes, "The fact that we could talk to somebody across the world in real time, for example, was really exciting to people at that point. So the immediacy of these digital networked media was quite exciting."

Furthermore, Grusin says because 9/11 took the media by such surprise, it began to focus more on forward-based news. From Grusin's point of view, the media did this so the public would never be traumatized from the shock of 9/11 again.

"So CNN now comes in from their commercial break, from every commercial break, comes in with breaking news. And breaking news is not about something that has happened. It's about what's about to happen," Grusin points out.

Another significant marker of the time was that there was no social media. As Grusin puts it, 9/11 influenced an influx of news on social media.

"So what all of those media platforms and other media platforms have done is to increase our attachment to our various screens. And those screens have multiplied, " Grusin says. "They're not simply a desktop or laptop computers as they were in 2001. But they're phones, they're tablets. And the platforms that we are attached to are all platforms that keep us coming back, that are oriented towards the future, towards the next interaction so that when you post on Facebook, what you're interested in is who liked it, who shared it, who commented on it. So the post is about generating new posts and new returns to Facebook, Twitter, the same thing."

With social media being prevalent, our data is tracked by companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Data tracking is what Grusin considers the second most important impact of 9/11. Grusin says the government creating things like the Patriot Act and Homeland Security showed the government was forward-thinking in surveillance as well.

"All of that was both a shift in our relationship to media that changed our everyday life, but also was a tool that was used by the state, by security agencies in order to identify, track, and stop another 9/11."

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