Second Anniversaries are Different
As I’ve observed tragedies from near and far, I’ve noticed a stark difference in how the first and second anniversaries are covered.
As I’ve observed tragedies from near and far, I’ve noticed a stark difference in how the first and second anniversaries are covered. Typically the first anniversary is treated as a huge milestone, with lots of media buildup and elaborate plans to properly recognize it. A high-ranking official, perhaps even the president, may attend some ceremony. The day is sad and thoughtful, with a tinge of looking forward.
Second anniversaries tend to be low-key and harder to focus on. It is too soon to forget, but not long enough to remember in a big way again. Of course, families and survivors must be tapped for measurements on how they’re doing, what has changed, what they plan to do on this notable day, and so forth. Sometimes a story comes from that — from groups they formed or ways they’ve moved on or struggles they still face.
In Oklahoma City, the second anniversary of the bombing arrived just prior to prosecuting Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in federal court, so that event overshadowed the day. I believe the growing voices debating the war on terrorism may well overshadow what happened in New York and at the Pentagon, but as journalists, it is important to go back to the spot where it happened. Perhaps looking at New York City as a whole and how it has mended would be appropriate. Same with the Pentagon, where they simply repaired the building and went about business — or so it seems.
This is also a time to look at the rescuers — police, firefighters, paramedics. Their fallout often occurs later than the primary victims and it is harder to detect. It often comes out sideways, in the form of drug or alcohol abuse, divorce, job problems or suicide. Now is the time to look at statistics and talk to these folks. If fallout doesn’t happen now, it probably will next year. If not then, there’s a story in how they evaded it.
I recall how the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News covered the first anniversary of Columbine. Both papers were careful not to show old photos of the tragedy, but to write profiles on how families were moving forward, for better or worse.
These papers made a conscious effort to not reoffend anyone by reliving the tragedy. We can learn from that this second time around.