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September 11 Anniversary: Journalists Grapple With Covering Attacks As Years Go By

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The 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is bringing with it a thorny question for journalists: what is the right balance of coverage for such a day as the years go by?

The tenth anniversary of the attacks was accompanied by reams of coverage in every newspaper, magazine and television show. That is understandable: ten years is an instinctual place to look back, to see what has changed. Yet, as time passes -- and more people say they have moved on from the attacks -- how should journalists respond?

Margaret Sullivan, the new public editor of the New York Times, opened a column on the topic with a provocative thought: "The pain, the outrage, the loss - these never fade. The amount of journalism, however, must."

While Sullivan is likely to get some pushback about the line, it is indisputably true that, as time goes on, coverage of national horrors recedes. Each anniversary of Pearl Harbor, for instance, does not bring with it a great deal of journalism.

This year, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Post were among the New York papers without a 9/11 story on their front pages. The Associated Press led its piece on the anniversary by saying that there was a sense in the country "that it's time to move forward after a decade of remembrance." No public officials were scheduled to speak at Ground Zero. Still, there was a large amount of coverage in many places. MSNBC, as it does every year, replayed its original coverage of the attacks. Networks prepared special reports for official markings of the tragedy.

"Some anniversaries offer a natural reflection point," Carolyn Ryan, the Times' metro editor, told Sullivan. "In subsequent years, we do have to mark these moments, but it will be in a more modest way."

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