The events of September 11, 2001, were seen across the globe. The media coverage of the terrorist attacks was constantly replayed on television, and the following day, images of the crumbling World Trade Center towers appeared on the front pages of newspapers in both small towns and in major cities.

firefighters-flagUniversity of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) Assistant Professor Nicole Dahmen studies iconic images. She and SOJC Instructor and Photojournalist Dan Morrison recently collaborated on a research study of iconic photographs from historical events. One of the events they studied was 9/11.

“From the media perspective, the image we see repeated most often is the Thomas Franklin photo of the firefighters raising the American flag in the rubble of the fallen World Trade Centers,” says Dahmen. “However, while this is an image that we frequently see repeated in the media, it does not always resonate in the minds of audiences as the iconic image of 9/11. What audiences remember—and identify with—are images of the twin towers.”

Research has shown that media coverage of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, was largely told through images, both moving and still. And certainly images of the twin towers were at the center of the visual media coverage.

“Images of the twin towers in various states of destruction have become the predominant visual icon of the September 11 attack. But rather than recalling a single image of the twin towers, we now remember iconic visual ‘themes’ within news coverage,” she says. “The iconicity of the World Trade Center image is not achieved from one single image; rather, all images culminate in a collective visual iconicity of the fallen towers.”

Regarding the annual commemorative coverage of 9/11, Dahmen explains that media coverage collectively reflects the desire to move forward.

“While the tragedy is present, the annual commemorative coverage largely emphasizes moving forward through stories of survivors,” she says. “It’s a story of somber remembrance. Rather than focusing on the terrorist or technical—here’s what happened—story angles, the commemorative coverage largely focuses on the human element.”

More information about Dahmen’s iconic image research from September 11 can be found in the journal article:

Dahmen, Nicole S., & Morrison, Daniel D. (2015). “Place, space, time: Media gatekeeping and iconic imagery in the digital and social media age.Digital Journalism. DOI 10.1080/21670811.2015.1081073

By Corinne Boyer, MS ‘15