by Caitlin O’Donnell
Timing was certainly not to our advantage when the news hit. It was at around 10:00 p.m. Sunday night that I first began to notice the Tweets rolling in about an announcement from President Barack Obama planned for 10:30. Within seconds, more Tweets proclaimed the speech would be foreign-policy related. Within minutes, conjectures arose that Obama would announce the death of Osama bin Laden. And within hours, the news was confirmed. Osama bin Laden, one of the United States’ most wanted and most elusive terrorists, had been killed in his hide-out in Pakistan, almost a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11.
Almost immediately, social media sites began to blow up with the news, ranging from media outlets hastily sharing the announcement with any details they could gather from their sources, to young adults making rash comments about the situation. It has even been reported that the night of the announcement saw the highest rate of Tweets ever, averaging 3,440 per second at its peak.
As journalists, this is the kind of news we crave and thrive on. A breaking story such as this has implications globally just as much as it does locally. And the local, or more specifically campus, reaction certainly was news in and of itself.
The first inkling of celebration I heard came from cars racing through Danieley Center filled with students piled on top of one another, blasting music. Then came the fireworks. And then the mob, parade, movement (whatever you want to call it) that originated in front of Danieley Commons. It was there that students began a small bonfire, waved Americans flags and chanted “USA! USA!”
I will not deny that the response from the student body was uncalled for. I have, in the subsequent days, thought about how I would have responded had I not been involved as reporter – I’ve come to the firm conclusion that I would not have participated. But just because a journalist does not support an event or movement or person or idea does not mean it does not deserve to be covered. The role of the journalist (and one of the primary reasons I was attracted to the profession in the first place) is to record history as it happens. That means, no matter the situation, you’re there, on the scene getting the facts and chronicling the moment so that in future years, the moment is neither lost nor forgotten.
The news media on Elon’s campus have been questioned in their coverage the night of the announcement, some claiming that we only focused on the rioting and the students who chose to use the night as an excuse to rave and party. I will not deny that those with the loudest voices
often get the most coverage in situations such as these. But I would argue that, in that specific moment, they are the most influential and their actions and speech demand coverage. There is time, in coming days, for follow-up and reports of dissenters and those with opposite viewpoints, which all members of The Pendulum staff have been involved in gathering this week. But, as for me, I’ll follow the news as it happens and if a band of 100+ rowdy students marching through campus chanting is not news, then I sure do not know what is.
For me, it’s been an adventure. One that I will never forget and one that will define my participation in future coverage of breaking news. In the moment, I didn’t have time to think or feel or form an opinion. I didn’t dwell on my memory of coming home from fifth grade to the frightening news of the attacks of Sept. 11 and my life has been defined by that day in more ways than I can count. I didn’t attempt to explain what this meant for the future of our country, of our world. I didn’t rejoice or cry or laugh or grow angry. I simply took the information I had been given and reported, leaving my personal opinions, emotions and memories on the wayside. Now, almost 48 hours to the minute of my traipse across campus, I have time to reflect and formulate my thoughts. And I’m sure I echo the sentiments of many when I say that while this event was monumentally significant, there is no need to jump to conclusions. This does not mean terrorist attacks will stop, or that the war on terror is over, or planes are 100 percent safe – as one international student pointed out, an organization well-funded and organized enough to carry out attacks on Sept.11 will not be extinguished by the death of their figurehead. Perhaps that is the best part about journalism – having so many questions and going on a determined hunt for answers, not resting until they have been presented to the public.
And a huge thank you to everyone from the staff of The Pendulum, whether from the news team or not, who came together that night to help with everything from following the rapidly moving crowd, to interviewing participants, to shooting photos and video. It is a great day when a staff comes together seamlessly as we did that night and I could not be more proud or thankful for the staff I have the privilege of working with day in and day out. And I sincerely hope I converted at least a few of my fellow staff members to a similar love of chasing down the news – no matter how much they’re in denial, I know they enjoyed it just as much as I did!
Since I’ve started working at The Pendulum, I’ve become obsessed with Twitter and other forms of social media. It seems comical to me that I first heard about Osama bin Laden’s death through verbal communication when my friend’s neighbor ran shouting down the hallway. But despite the fear I felt as a child on Sept. 11 when a classmate spread a rumor that planes were circling above our elementary school, waiting to bomb us, my immediate reaction to the news was not one of elation, anger, surprise or even confusion.
Like my fellow news editor, Caitlin O’Donnell, the journalist in me kicked into full gear and took over completely. I ran back to my computer to see what was being posted on Twitter and several of my friends crowded my tiny room to watch the president’s speech. But I had no reaction, no time to do anything but report. Even now, a full two days after President Barack Obama’s announcement, I haven’t officially decided how I feel about bin Laden’s death; I’m still taking it all in.
But I do know that regardless of my position, I would not change the fact that I sprinted out of Sloan and halfway across campus to follow and tweet about the band of students that marched from Danieley Center to jump in Foneville Fountain, storm Smith and Carolina and usurp East Haggard Avenue. Seeing Elon students so excited about something that undoubtedly meant so much to so many people was such an incredible sight, one that I have never before witnessed on this campus. So, reporter’s notebook stuffed into my back pocket, pencil tucked away behind my ear, I used the latest and greatest journalism tool to help tell the story: Twitter.
Certainly not every Elon student was out in the streets until 3:30 early Monday morning, but those that were had a story to tell. I talked to at least half a dozen people during the day Monday and found out that, for most, the rally wasn’t a celebration of death but a wild and warranted display of relief from a fear that haunted so many childhoods. Just like misery likes company, so too does excitement and it seemed as though each person’s enthusiasm grew exponentially with each interaction with other students. Although many think the celebrations were disrespectful, it seemed as though students were just excited for the opportunity to gather for a common cause. Like sophomore Andrew Hirsh said, the rally first started as a celebration that bin Laden had been killed but by the end everyone had forgotten he had died.
Don’t forget to check out The Pendulum online for complete coverage of the events of Sunday night, as well as the response from campus in the subsequent days. Also, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook for coverage of the Elon news that matters to you.