Covering terrorism at the beginning of the 21st century is one of the greatest challenges media around the world are facing. Already “accustomed” to covering great natural disasters or wars, the media needed new skills to cover terrorism acts such as 9/11 attacks that changed the image of today’s world and influenced lives of their audience. And the development of this new set of knowledge was happening under the large pressure from the same audience mainly because of the fact which former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher formulated in the definition that “the publicity is the oxygen for terrorism”[1]. The utmost importance of media role can be seen in Brigitte Nacos’s explanation of the difference between violence and terrorism from the perspective of media: “most people who commit brutal crimes do not consider their deeds as a means to spread their propaganda (…) in sharp contrast, groups and individuals who commit or simply threaten political violence understand their deeds as a means to win media attention and news coverage for their actions, their grievances, and their political ends.”[2]

The events of September 11, 2001 unquestionably and utterly altered the face of modern America but their influence did not end on Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, Mexico or Canada. And just like the course of history was modified, the journalism was changed too because “even though international terrorist acts are often specifically designed to exploit the interconnections between the various targets in one particular country, they also affect international public and decision makers in other countries by gaining coverage in the international mass media.”[3] Having this in mind, the front page of the newspapers in Norway had just one topic on September 12, 2001 – 9/11 coverage dominated the media in this Scandinavian country, just like anywhere else in the world.

The tremendous importance and proportions of the event shadowed the rules that were previously, almost naturally, obeyed. It was expected that “when the attack occurs on foreign soil, there should be greater focus on the causes of the attack and more weight given to the implications for politics and international relations, as physical distance provides less material and a more detached prospective.” [4] The proximity rule in the 9/11 case was abandoned and Norwegian newspapers followed the attacks as the event that had great impact on the country. As I have learned from my pen pal Asne Kalland Aarstand, at that time high-school student in Norway, “the media coverage was ‘aggressive’ for many, many weeks”. Aarstand further claims that “media has been successful in presenting the images and stories essential to create a necessary support amongst the public for the security priorities made by the government with reference to combating terrorism. It is pure political science theorizing – in order to willingly convince your citizens that the cause is worth dying for (meaning going to war for) or implementing security solutions that jeopardize your personal freedom (monitoring phone calls, bank transactions etc.), they need to be convinced that the goal affects them directly. (…) An entirely different questions, is, obviously, whether the stories told and the images presented are corresponding with reality”.

From the analysis of the front pages of major Norwegian newspapers printed on September 12, 2001, it is obvious that the print media used its two strongest “weapons” to transmit the scale and emotions of the events in New York. The extensive use of almost full-page photos is in accordance with Aarstand’s assertions since visual images are regarded as “the most effective way to convey emotion. They are rife with cognitive and emotional implications; the public makes decisions about news coverage based on the images”[5].

Dagbladet: USA in War

Full-front page picture was extensively used among almost all tabloid newspapers in Norway – most notably Dagbladet whose front page was covered with a huge image of the explosion in World Trade Center towers. The emotions conveyed with bright colors of fire and black smoke are supported with a heading in huge letters “USA in War”. A small photo of worried face of the President of the United States George W. Bush further sends emotional message.

Several other tabloid newspapers adopted very similar concept with BA

BA: Doomsday on Manhattan

being the most notable example. On September 12, this Bergen region tabloid had on its whole front page the image of debris and ruined police car in Manhattan with the headings “Doomsday on Manhattan” and a speculation that 10 000 people might have been killed – a true tabloid way of reporting. The concept of full-page image was used also in Vartland, a Christian daily papers which supported the image of plane crashing into the Tower 2 with the title “War against USA”.

On the other hand, non-tabloid newspapers did print enlarged photos on their covers,

Aftenposten: Terror War against USA

mostly above the fold. The most respected daily Aftenposten had a wide shot of Manhattan with clouds of dust – the image that maybe does not immediately convey strong emotions but clearly speaks about the scale of damage. However, Aftenposten did use both words “terror” and “war” in the leading title – “Terror war against USA”.

Aftenposten printed also a small photo of two people crying, under the fold. Together with the image used by two prominent regional newspapers (Bergenstidende and Tonsbergsblad) that shows people running away while the buildings are falling down, these photos show that Norwegian media used one of the main frames in reporting terrorism – the “asserted innocence” or Save the Innocents Frame [6].

BA: Rising in Anger

Finally, it is interesting to mention that the next day the Bergen region tabloid BA printed a whole-page cover photo of the American flag raised by rescue workers in the middle of the rubbles. The title “Raising in anger” evokes another frame of events – newspapers convey a subtle form of patriotism[7]. The issue of patriotism in the light of national importance of the event appears in Norwegian case despite the fact that it occurred far from this Scandinavian state.

Norwegian media generally offered an informative approach in their 9/11 coverage but also included some emotional impact. It is important to mention that neither of the selected newspapers used the disturbing photos of jumpers in their front pages, although they did appear at certain web pages[8]. Despite certainly being tempted to illustrate the event with those images, the media chose a good solution how to overcome this everlasting dilemma that “in covering terrorism, the media are damned if they do and damned if they do not exercise self-restraint.”[9]

[1] Barnett, B., Reynolds, R. Terrorism and The Press: an uneasy relationship, Peter Lang Publishing, 2009, p. 2

[2] Nacos, Brigitte Lebens. Mass-media terrorism: The Central Role of the Media in Terrorism and Counterterrorism, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002, p. 10

[3] Nacos, Brigite L. Terrorism and the Media, Columbia University Press, 1996, p.10

[4] Norris, P. Kern M. Framing terrorism: the news media, the government, and the public, Routledge, 2003, p. 96

[5] Barnett, B., Reynolds, A. Terrorism and The Press: an uneasy relationship, Peter Lang Publishing, 2009, p. 80

[6] Moeller, Susan D. Packaging Terrorism, Wiley-Blackwell, 2008, p. 103

[7] Barnett, B., Reynolds, R. Terrorism and The Press: an uneasy relationship, Peter Lang Publishing, 2009, p. 86

[8] (02-03-2010)

[9] Nacos, Brigitte L. Terrorism and the Media, Columbia University Press, 1996, p. 159