About the Project

Rutgers student Shannel Douglas, right, with Piscataway
High School junior Silvia Gunderson, center,
interview
Sarah Van Auken, whose parent died in 9/11.

 

The 9/11 Student-Journalism Project, or 9/11 Project for short, is a project that makes the reporter almost as interesting as the subject. It answers questions not contemplated before the Project was funded by the New Jersey Press Foundation.

The idea of the 9/11 Project is to have similarly-aged journalism students interview children whose parent died in the Sept. 11, 2001, destruction of the World Trade Center. Now that we are 10 years away from that day, we find that the children of these workers are coming of age. While some were babies when 9/11 happened, many were old enough to understand the implications. All of them have had to live with the loss of their parent and the turmoil that that experience brought to their family. The Rutgers journalism students who participated in the 9/11 Project happened to be about the same age, meaning the vast majority of 9/11 children and Rutgers students found they could speak to each other in a casual but surprisingly straightforward manner because there was no cross-generational barrier.

In carrying out the mandate of the Press Foundation, the Rutgers Department of Journalism and Media Studies, a unit of the School of Communication and Information, also worked with the New Jersey Press Association (NJPA), the Rutgers Journalism Research Institute (which administered the grant), and the Garden State Scholastic Press Association, an organization of high school newspaper advisers. These organizations cooperated to conduct a course for 20 college students and then to write, edit, and produce for publication 20 news stories, each about a different child of 9/11. The stories are on this website, though they are pass-code-protected so that only NJPA editors can get to them. These editors will be taking these stories and publishing them in various New Jersey publications, websites and other news sources, around the anniversary of 9/11.

The emotion of growing up without a mom or dad, combined with the constant reminder in the media of that terrible day, has had a severe and marked effect on many of the children. The Rutgers students were able, in every case, to find the facts to individualize these children (many of who are now in their 20s), take photos of them, create videos about them, and write sensitive and perceptive stories. Meanwhile, the children of 911 granted interviews, many of them for

the first time. In doing so, they agreed to open their lives to the public. This took incredible courage on their part, and it took sensitivity and knowledge on the part of the college students to convince the children that this was not just another interview for the sake of the notoriety.

For these reasons, the stories contained in this website are special. The children of 9/11 victims took important steps to open up a little to the world on this important anniversary, and the college students, all of them well-trained by their journalism professors, took on an assignment that brought them beyond the classroom — into the homes and workplaces of the children of the victims, to elicit information that could be part of a solid news article but not one that is insensitive. An assignment like that is hard even for veteran journalists. So, the professors and administrators at Rutgers, as well as the officials and editors involved with the Press Association and Press Foundation, overcame any skepticism about whether the students were up to the job. If the students were to mishandle a story about the children of the victims, it is likely the children would refuse to be interviewed again. That means these stories are important for history, for the well-being of the interviewees, and for the education of the students.

The Journalism Research Institute thanks all the organizations that were involved, but it can never thank enough the children of 9/11 victims who granted these interviews — and the college and high school students who ventured forth to understand their future craft. JRI hopes readers will have a better picture of what happened in the decade after 9/11.

 

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