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Judith Halliday

The Horror of September 11, 2001

Describing the indescribable ...

Posted on: 10/09/2011   By: Judith Halliday

Images of the September 11 terrorist attacks, so evocative and vivid on the day, are no less evocative and vivid now, 10 years on and even the most devoted lover of the written word would be hard pushed to say or think otherwise ...

the new york city skyline showing the tribute lights for the world trade centre

the new york city skyline showing the tribute lights for the world trade centre

Watching the documentaries this week that marked the anniversary somehow made it all seem so much more recent, rather than reminding us that a decade has since past. But the pictures only tell a part of the story and, like all major news events of the modern age, and despite 24-hour TV coverage and internet access, the 9/11 attacks were truly brought home to the wider audience by the words that were written in an effort to capture, and make sense of, exactly what happened that day.

As a journalist, I can only imagine what it must have been like sitting down to write that story. Where on earth would you start? But what a story you could tell once the words began to flow.

What the pictures can't tell us is the story that lies behind the image. Seeing a man running down the street away from an all-engulfing cloud of smoke and dust is shocking and startling, but it is when he has had found the time and courage to speak about his experiences that we get a chance to find out something about what it was really like.

Pictures imprint themselves on our minds, but it is often the strength of words that take you to the heart and soul of the story. Used well, they transport you to another level and allow a far deeper understanding of that day than anyone who spent it 3,500 miles away across the Atlantic has any right to.

Interestingly, words had a significant place in the reporting of one of the most disturbing aspects of the attacks. A fascinating article in The Sunday Times last weekend looked at the stories of some of those who, faced with an unimaginable decision, chose to take control of their own fate.

In the reports of the chief medical examiner in New York - charged with recording and investigating all the deaths on 9/11 - the words "jump" and "jumped" never appear. Out of respect to the families of those who had to make that decision, and who may find even greater pain in the fact that a loved one may be considered to have committed suicide, those people did not jump, they either fell or were forced from the building.

As viewers, we know they jumped - film footage is there for all to see - but it doesn't matter, we have no right to question why. Instead, it's a lesson in how the words you don't use can be far more significant than the words you do.

Regardless, our condolences go out to all who lost love ones on that fateful day.

Until next time ...


More about Judith Halliday ...

My writing career began under the bright lights of Gateshead in 1986 - who wouldn't love a job that offered the chance to listen to Gateshead Borough Council's Public Waste Committee debate the introduction of wheelie bins for three hours? It was the start of a working life that taught me what makes a good story and how to tell it and, although I don't have a news editor lurking ready to throw things at me any more, or so much of an interest in wheelie bins, my love of writing and a fascination with talking to people and telling their stories is as strong as ever.

Today I work for Business Times in Northampton and the Northants Evening Telegraph as well as providing copywriting services and press releases for a number of local companies.

When I'm not doing that, I indulge in the things I love most, which include, in no particular order: my teenage children, Sunderland football club, my husband, chocolate, QI, Chinese noodles, my closest friends, Test Match Special, red wine, reading in bed, The Sound of Music and growing vegetables.


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