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Remembering 9/11

September 12, 2008 | 11:55 am

Pentagon_memorialL.A. Times editors wanted to acknowledge the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in the Sept. 11 print edition. So they published two articles on the front page -- a report on the weakened state of Al Qaeda (even as officials worry about how the threat of terrorism is evolving), and a story about the presidential candidates' similar platforms on Iraq, Afghanistan and national security. Editors also put a story and photo on the Nation page about a memorial at the Pentagon ("the first national memorial to the victims of that tragic day," according to the story), and another news article on the front of the California section about an assistant religious studies professor at UC Davis who has studied what he calls "the most complete audio library of Bin Laden's past."

But for some readers, the photo choice on the front page Thursday apparently overshadowed the stories: On Wednesday, the Angels beat the Yankees 4-2 to clinch the American League West -- the team's fourth division title in five years -- and the image on A1 on Thursday showed outfielder Reggie Willits getting dunked in a tub after the win.

Nearly 20 readers had comments like the phone message from Eileen Ales of Malibu on the readers' representative phone line: "This is 9/11 and how do you cover it? How soon we forget."

Debra Tenzer of Los Angeles did see the stories, and in a follow-up call said that she appreciated them. But her voicemail message left early in the morning was this: "I was appalled to open the L.A. Times this morning -- on Sept. 11 -- and find a large photo of the celebrating Angels dunking in a tub of ice on the anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies our country has ever experienced. This is not like you. I highly enjoy The Times and am shocked that you would use such bad judgment and put this photograph above the fold on page one of this day."

Editors' plan for coverage included reporting to readers on Friday the events that happened the day before, and indeed, the main photo on the front page shows candidates John McCain and Barack Obama at the site of the former World Trade Center in New York. The caption referred readers to the article inside that told how on Sept. 11, as the headline put it, "A nation bows its head in silence."

The struggle is one that comes up several times a year in the newsroom on anniversaries and holidays when deciding what to play in print. The website, obviously, can and did feature Sept. 11 events throughout the day; however, the print paper balances the need to be a record of the preceding day with the need to reflect what people might be talking about on the day it is published.

As Managing Editor Davan Maharaj notes, the L.A. Times was alone among metropolitan papers in placing two 9/11-related stories on Page A1. The photo showing the celebration by the Angels was a reflection of an event on Sept. 10, not a commentary on 9/11; the multiple stories were intended to honor the anniversary of the 2001 attacks.

The photo above of the Pentagon Memorial ran inside the main section on Thursday. Two stories related to Sept. 11 coverage were published on the front page, and more coverage was in the California section, but it seems that readers who called might have preferred to see this on Page A1.

Credit: Bill O'Leary / Washington Post