What is the first major news event you remember?
Whether it was the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated or when planes hit the World Trade Center, early news memories stick with you.
FARGO — What is the first major news story you remember? How old were you? Did you happen to be 7 years old? (You'll see why I'm asking you that later in this story.)
I was thinking about my early news memories last week on the 53rd anniversary of the moon landing. It appears from this page in my baby book that my parents had me write my name on that exact date — July 20, 1969.
Unfortunately, I have absolutely no memory of this most notable day in American history — either Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” or me conquering early penmanship with my ginormous John Hancock sized T-R-A-C-Y.
For me, the first real news event I remember in any detail was when members of a militant Palestinian group took 11 Israeli athletes hostage during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany. All of the hostages were killed. I’ll never forget seeing the images of the hooded men on the balcony of the Olympic Village.
The fact that my first real memories of news come from the summer when I was 7 shows that I’m probably, undeniably average.
Studies show children as young as 2 or 3 years old can retain memories from things that happen to them. But they aren’t likely to pay much attention to anything outside their bubble — including the news — until they’re closer to 7.
In fact, Common Sense Media, a resource for media usage, strongly recommends parents wait until their children are at least 7 before exposing them to even a light level of news. Jill Murphy, vice president and editor in chief at Common Sense Media, told The New York Times, “It’s developmental. It’s never a good idea to share traumatic information with children that age (under 7).”
Maybe this is why so many of us report our first news memory around the time of early elementary school. Of course, it follows that the bigger the news event and the closer it is to the child, the more likely it is they'll remember it at an earlier age. (For example, how many of you have memories of the flood of 1997 or the flood of '09 even though you were under the age of 5?)
I decided to ask a few of my newsroom colleagues — people that work in the news every day — what their first news memories were.
Like me, a few said their first memories happened around the time they were 7.
Not surprising that my high school classmate, sports reporter and columnist Jeff Kolpack, has the exact same first news memory of the hostage crisis at the 1972 Olympics.
“For whatever reason, the voice of Jim McKay and the host of the 1972 Olympics will never go away. Maybe it was the way in which he reported on the terrorists turning the Olympics into a news story of the worst proportions. Athletes being held hostage and killed is a memory I wish never happened.” — Jeff Kolpack.
Columnist Mike McFeely’s first news memory is also from around the time he was 7 in the summer of 1974, when Richard Nixon resigned as president following the Watergate scandal.
“I don't know how or why as a 7-year-old I was watching a televised address of the POTUS announcing his resignation, but I was. We were at our family lake cabin near Alexandria, Minn., which at the time received only one TV channel (KCMT Channel 7) and I remember watching Nixon announce that he was going to step down. I knew from that moment I would be a journalist and a Democrat for the rest of my life. Just kidding. I probably went swimming or chased frogs.” — Mike McFeely.
Some of my colleagues remember stories from their pre-kindergarten days. Reporter and columnist Tammy Swift remembers the moon landing.
"Although this was probably more so because my parents bought a color TV to watch it. To me, the most interesting thing was watching them try to wedge the TV through the back door." — Tammy Swift.
Investigative reporter Patrick Springer’s first news memory was one of the most tragic days in American history.
“This one's easy but also tragic for me to recall: the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. I was a preschooler, at home with my parents for lunch, and our friendly milk man — yes, back in the days when milk was delivered! — poked his head in the door and asked us if we'd heard that the president had been shot. My dad jumped to turn on the television and Walter Cronkite of CBS was on the air with constant coverage. I was 5 years old, but it remains a vivid memory.” — Patrick Springer.
It was also fun to hear from the younger journalists in the room whose first memories of news events happened when some of us shall we say "seasoned veterans" were already working in the news business. (I might have been overheard calling them "little whippersnappers” while writing this story.)
Investigative reporter April Baumgarten remembers the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998, while editor Kaity Young has a very notable first news memory.
“As I imagine is the case for the majority of people my age, my first news memory is 9/11. I remember the world stopping and the TVs being turned on at my elementary school — something we almost never did. At school and at home, we watched the footage over and over again, and I think this was also the first time I held real conversations about a major news event.” — Kaity Young.
I’d love to hear from you about your first news memory. Was it at the age of 7 like so many of us? What do you remember? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your stories for use in a possible follow-up column.