We were drawn this week to the media’s coverage of the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombings.
The Washington Post’s Hank Stuever reflected on a piece he wrote in 2001, six years after the bombing. Stuever republished the piece on his personal blog this week, writing:
“I was among the many reporters who came to Oklahoma City in 1995 to cover the aftermath of the bomb that destroyed the federal building and killed 168 people and wounded many more. I wrote a lot about it, but I couldn’t make much sense of it, especially because Oklahoma City also happens to be my hometown.
“Six years later, in 2001, as the United States prepared to execute Timothy McVeigh for the crime, I profiled Bud Welch for The Washington Post‘s Style section and only then did it seem like I had found an ending. Forgiveness is the real power, I think. It’s something we should always strive for.”
Sometimes, it takes years for tragic stories to make sense. Often, they don’t start to make sense until people have had time to recover and find meaningful pathways forward. This sentiment was also evident in a documentary that The Oklahoman newspaper created with PBS affiliate OETA as part of their 20th anniversary coverage.
The documentary, titled “Resilience,” starts off with chilling footage from the bombing and then cuts to moving stories from people who were affected by the tragedy. Their stories reveal the sadness they still feel, but ultimately reflect hope and, indeed, resilience.
The documentary is part of a 20th anniversary website that The Oklahoman created called “Resilience: The Capacity to Overcome Disaster.” It’s an impressive site that features a series of videos from the 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony, an interactive timeline, stories, and an archive of previous coverage.
“We’ve been covering it for a long time, and we cover it every year with respect and reverence,” Oklahoman Editor-in-Chief Kelly Dyer Fry told Poynter.org’s Kristen Hare this week. Dyer Fry said that in the 20 years since the bombing, “journalism has changed. Our city has changed. Our city has blossomed. Our city has really been very resilient, it kind of galvanized our city. We’ve seen tremendous growth here.”
Stuever’s story and The Oklahoman’s documentary are good examples of Restorative Narrative — stories that highlight resilience, renewal, and recovery in a tragedy’s aftermath.
These narratives are an important part of the media landscape. They make media coverage more holistic and balanced by telling a more complete story about a tragedy and its aftermath. They also serve a greater purpose for communities. A growing body of research shows that repeated exposure to traumatic news coverage contributes to daily stress, triggers flashbacks, and encourages fear conditioning.
Positive psychology research has found that when people experience negative emotions like those in traumatic news stories, they become withdrawn and hopeless. By contrast, when they experience positive emotions like those expressed in Restorative Narratives, they feel more engaged and hopeful. Research also shows that resilience is an acquired skill.
Restorative Narratives, then, have great potential — to teach people what it means to be resilient and to mobilize people and communities in ways that traditional doom and gloom stories can’t.
Interested in learning more about Restorative Narrative? Join us at our annual media summit.