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Today is September 11, and the date 9/11 will seemingly forever be linked to the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001. I kept hearing on NPR News yesterday that the memorials for 9/11 had already started a day earlier on 9/10. I dreaded this day, especially as a media watcher, because I knew the mainstream media would turn the 5th anniversary of 9/11 into another spectacle, complete with theme music, glitzy graphics and teary made-for-TV melodramas.

Perhaps the web could provide an antidote to this problem, a way for me to experience the 9/11 anniversary in a quieter, non-partisan, apolitical way, with nary a talking head telling me what it all means. What I found with a simple Google search for 9/11 astounded me, because many of the top search results (outside of the tacky September11News.com) contained just what I was looking for: great archival material that could speak for itself, without the aid of a microphone, graphics package or sensationalism.

The Google search shows that people are linking to a lot of material that has more staying power and doesn’t necessarily take a political stand in every case — as with Michael Moore’s Bush-bashing documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” (which comes up at #4 in the search). Of course there are plenty of conspiracy theories that rate high on the list, but very few sensationalist media packages.

Here are some of the best resources I found from that simple search, and what I liked about those sites.

The September 11 Digital Archive
Perhaps one of the more remarkable collections of material on 9/11 history, the Digital Archive includes stories, emails, photos, video, audio, and documents — much of which is submitted by the public — relating to the day. In fact, you can still submit materials or stories you’d like to share. A special project for the 5th anniversary is a Google Maps mashup that shows where various photos and stories took place around the New York metro area on that day.

September 11, 2001 attacks — Wikipedia entry
Though I’ve had plenty of reasons to shun Wikipedia and its attempts at a neutral point of view, I’ll give it credit for this entry, which covers a vast array of details about the attacks. There are simple timelines, photos, and the entry even includes some of the conspiracy theories in a relatively balanced way.

Cooperative Research’s Complete 911 Timeline
This effort is described as “open-content civic journalism” and depended on volunteers to search out and source a complete detailed timeline of events of 9/11. Reading through the timeline raises various questions about the chaos in the U.S. line of command dealing with the crisis, and just how unprepared we as a nation really were. According to the site, the new movie, 9/11: Press for Truth is based in part on this timeline.

James Nachtwey’s Shattered photo essay
Of all the major media efforts on 9/11, I think war photographer James Nachtwey’s evocative photos on the scene at Ground Zero for Time magazine stood out the most. It’s plain weird that Nachtwey, who is away in war zones most of his life, just happened to be at home in Manhattan on a pit stop from travel right on 9/11. The day of 9/11, I was actually writing a story for the New York Times about digital photography, that later included the wrenching stories of photojournalists at the scene.

The Library of Congress MINERVA September 11 Web Archive
Another collection of web archives from 9/11, this one is a joint project of the Internet Archive, WebArchivist.org and the Pew Internet & American Life Project. While I like the idea of collecting what major media, business, government and educational websites showed on September 11 and beyond, the user interface isn’t very intuitive, and most of the web archives are long after 9/11. Still, I applaud the idea and hope it will improve over time.

The 9-11 Commission Report
Many people have questioned the late timing of the 9-11 Commission’s report, and more than a few have questioned the power of the commission to enact any changes to government or hold anyone accountable. But still, if you want to criticize the report, you at least have to read it first.

The Memory Hole 9/11
The Memory Hole is dedicated to posting information online that the authorities or media are too tame to release. While some of this 9/11 information borders on conspiracy theory (e.g. an account of bombs going off in the World Trade Center), many of the items are recordings from firefighters or the Port Authority, where you can make up your own mind about what happened.

9/11 Debunking the Myths
In case you get too caught up in the conspiracy theories, Popular Mechanics magazine put out an in-depth story — later turned into a book — debunking many of these myths from that fateful day. Two of the myths debunked: one of the planes flying into the towers had a missile launcher; and another plane had no windows, meaning it was a military cargo plane or fuel tanker.

What other 9/11 websites have you seen that were great resources for information, without the glitz, without the conspiracy theories, perhaps created by a community online? Share them in the comments below, and I’ll update this post with some of your better entries. Be sure to explain in detail why you liked the sites.