Station Stories

Harrisburg, PA, Station 9/11 Coverage Underscores Value of Local Connection

A makeshift memorial at the Flight 93 crash site i i

A makeshift memorial at the Flight 93 crash site Tim Lambert, WITF hide caption

itoggle caption Tim Lambert, WITF
A makeshift memorial at the Flight 93 crash site

A makeshift memorial at the Flight 93 crash site

Tim Lambert, WITF

In journalism, it's commonly understood that the best reporter on any story is the one that knows the people, the region, and all the details better than anyone else in the newsroom.

When the national spotlight turns to individual communities, public radio is there to bring you the news with local voices, context and a full understanding of the region. Why? The public radio reporters at NPR's 900+ Member stations live and work in the communities they cover.

The value of that local connection came home in a dramatic way in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, PA.

WITF's Tim Lambert has covered Flight 93 crash site for the last decade i i

WITF's Tim Lambert has covered Flight 93 crash site for the last decade WITF hide caption

itoggle caption WITF
WITF's Tim Lambert has covered Flight 93 crash site for the last decade

WITF's Tim Lambert has covered Flight 93 crash site for the last decade

WITF

Like every newsroom in the country, NPR Member station WITF in Harrisburg, PA, remained at a constant state of controlled chaos throughout that fateful day. For the station's All Things Considered host, Tim Lambert, the day became very personal when he realized just how well he knew the Flight 93 crash site.

"Six acres of my family's land was right at the crash site [of Flight 93]. The cockpit of the plane hit the ground, bounced and eventually landed on our property," Lambert says. "The trees were burned; jet fuel covered everything."

About a month after 9/11, Lambert met up with the county coroner, to walk through the site. Lambert was granted access to land that had been completely blocked off since that Tuesday morning. The coroner detailed the chronology of events and the locations of where the fuselage ultimately rested.

View across the field where Flight 93 went down. i i

View across the field where Flight 93 went down. Tim Lambert/WITF hide caption

itoggle caption Tim Lambert/WITF
View across the field where Flight 93 went down.

View across the field where Flight 93 went down.

Tim Lambert/WITF

Lambert's report of that first tour and the many follow up visits to follow the story and to report on the impact to the community, the neighbors, and the land was unique among news reports of this story, says Kathleen Pavelko, WITF's CEO.

"He had a head start on the story because he understands the region," she said. "He knows the people and they have given him special access to the story because they already trusted him."

Land owned by Lambert's family at the Flight 93 crash site i i

Land owned by Lambert's family at the Flight 93 crash site Tim Lambert/WITF hide caption

itoggle caption Tim Lambert/WITF
Land owned by Lambert's family at the Flight 93 crash site

Land owned by Lambert's family at the Flight 93 crash site

Tim Lambert/WITF

A few months before the five year anniversary of 9/11, Lambert met up with family members of victims of the crash for a conversation about the site, what it means to them and how they are doing five years later.

"We simply had a real conversation," Lambert says. "The family members were talking to me as a friend, just as they had hundreds of times before over the past five years."

Because of Lambert's connections with the community, the site and the people, he was able to take that rare conversation and turn it into a report for WITF that was recognized with a 2007 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in broadcasting.

Reporting like Lambert's coverage of the aftermath of 9/11, providing local coverage of important events through central Pennsylvania, is the mission and aim of WITF, says Pavelko.

The trees and land on Lambert's land was covered in jet fuel.

The trees and land on Lambert's land was covered in jet fuel. Tim Lambert/WITF hide caption

itoggle caption Tim Lambert/WITF

"WITF is the only locally owned broadcast entity in the region," she says. "The service we provide our listeners and viewers is highly valued and highly needed."

Operating three statewide broadcast networks, WITF provides news, information and entertainment programming for the region's public television and radio stations and commercial radio stations as well.

While WITF played a major role in the coverage of 9/11, the station prides itself on doing the kinds of day-to-day local reporting that gives listeners and viewers the information they need to make informed decisions.

The station has distinguished itself in its news coverage of state government and legislative bodies, a critical beat that has been increasingly abandoned by other media. WITF is one of the partner stations in NPR's Impact of Government project, an initiative to create a network of station-based journalism dedicated to covering the effect of government actions in every state. WITF plans to cover the state's energy economy as part of the project.

Lambert's trees at the crash site i i

Lambert's trees at the crash site Tim Lambert/WITF hide caption

itoggle caption Tim Lambert/WITF
Lambert's trees at the crash site

Lambert's trees at the crash site

Tim Lambert/WITF

Local reporting is a vital service, and a costly one for WITF. With all the talk of discontinuing federal funding to the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, Pavelko is concerned about being able to continue this level of services to their audience if that money goes away.

The station is already dealing with the loss of 14 staff members, who were laid off when state funding for public broadcasting was eliminated in the 2009 fiscal year. Eliminating or cutting federal funding would threaten the longstanding social contract between public broadcasting and the public, she says. It would bring grave consequences to the public radio and television stations that WITF operates.

"Public broadcasting operates on a social compact: to nourish the curiosity of children and to respect the intelligence of adults in a non commercial format," Pavelko says.

"Without the federal support for local news and information, WITF wouldn't be able prevent this from hurting our listeners. We would be a damaged and diminished organization."

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