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9/11 photographer to reflect on iconic images and evolution of media

By Jessica Federkeil, Point Park News Service:

Pulitzer-prize winning photographer Richard Drew has always taken advantage of every opportunity that has quite literally happened right in front of his lens.

His photography career began when an accident happened on the street he was driving on while on his way to school in Los Angeles.

“I came around the corner and a street sweeper had overturned with the driver trapped underneath,” Drew, who now works for the Associated Press, said. “I had my 35mm camera with me so I got out and I took a couple [of] pictures of the fireman rescuing this man. By the time the local newspaper photographer arrived to the scene, everything was cleaned up, [so] he had asked me if I wanted to sell them to the newspaper.”

Drew said the photographer offered him $5 for the photographs or offered to give him photo credit under the photo and they would give him a new roll of film. He took the latter because it was an opportunity to be published by a professional media outlet.

Associated Press photographer Richard Drew is scheduled to visit Point Park University on Thursday, September 15 as part of the "Fifteen Years On: Journalists Reflect on 9/11 Coverage" event. Photo courtesy of Richard Drew.
Associated Press photographer Richard Drew is scheduled to visit Point Park University on Thursday, September 15 as part of the “Fifteen Years On: Journalists Reflect on 9/11 Coverage” event. Photo courtesy of Richard Drew.

Listening to the police scanners, heading to the scenes of accidents to take photos and then trying to sell them to the local papers became a routine for Drew, which ultimately led to an internship with the San Gabriel Valley Daily Tribune in California.

Later in his career, Drew worked for the Pasadena Independent Star News, where he was afforded the opportunity to capture photos at historic events. One of the biggest events he was on site for was when he was one of four photographers in the kitchen during the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

“As a matter of fact I was standing right behind him when Sirhan Sirhan shot him. I shot pictures of him lying on the floor and all that stuff,” Drew said.

Drew’s most famous work comes later in his career when he was on the ground during the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Drew was on his way to photograph fashion week activities when he captured the infamous photos of people jumping or falling from the World Trade Center, which ultimately created the famous photograph titled “The Falling Man.”

“‘The Falling Man’ photograph represents, for me anyway, an unknown solider of that day,” he said. “There’s no blood and guts, it’s a very quiet picture.”

Drew will be speaking at Point Park University on Thurs., Sept. 15 as part of the event “Fifteen Years On: Journalists Reflect on 9/11 Coverage.” The event will take place in Lawrence Hall 200 from 6-8p.m., and will be followed by a candlelight vigil in the University’s Village Park. Members of the public are encouraged to attend.*Registration:

“I think it is important to remember that 3,000 people died that day, and it just wasn’t buildings falling down,” Drew said. “People should see that there was a human element involved. It just wasn’t these towers in New York being attacked by airplanes.”

Joining Drew will be members of Pittsburgh media, including: Sheldon Ingram of WTAE, Mary Pickels of the Tribune-Review and Steve Mellon of the Post-Gazette to discuss the evolution of today’s media and the protocol for breaking news of that magnitude.

“A new generation who may not personally remember 9/11 are given the opportunity now to learn through speakers like Drew, or things like the learning center at the Flight 93 crash site,” Pickels, who has spent the past 15 years following the developments for the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, said.

Ingram said he hopes this event will not only give direct insight to the audience on what happened on 9/11, but also show how national pride has strengthened over the past 15 years.

Pickels said the world of breaking news has drastically changed since 2001. Reporters make instantaneous dissemination of information for the public the main priority. They publish short synopses of information for the web and social media, usually while they are still out in the field gathering information.

“The tools we have today in terms of e-mail, and smartphones are taken for granted,” Pickels said. “Our reporters out in Shanksville had to call in and dictate their stories. We were gathering the best information we could for the next day’s paper, there were no web updates.”

Regardless of how technology continues to evolve, producing accurate and current news is still at the forefront for media outlets. Drew hopes his career experiences can help inspire young professionals at Point Park University to continue to be information gatherers.

“I want to inspire them [students] to go out and be good news people,” he said. “Remember that you are a first responder: You don’t run away from something; you run to something. Your job is to keep the public informed.”

Drew said he sees working professionals every day on the subway in New York that appear unhappy, which leads him to believe they are headed off to another day at a job they do not enjoy.

“Have a passion for what you do, and keep that passion for as long as you can,” he said. “I’ve worked for the AP for 47 years and I look forward to going to work every day. It’s something new every day. I’ve been very fortunate to be ‘stuck’ in something that I really enjoy.”

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