In the face of tragedy, challenge is news relevant to our readers

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All news is local. That's one of the first things you learn in journalism class. It's a lesson I had to keep reminding myself of as I gathered with other Ad Age editors last week to determine our role in covering the most horrific event of our lives.

The earliest conversations we had, while thick, terrifying clouds of smoke still blotted out the skies over lower Manhattan, were the most difficult. At that point, it was hard to figure out how anything Ad Age wrote could make a difference; it was harder again, by half, to figure out why anyone would care about the ad business at all in the wake of this national tragedy.

Many of the approaches we considered were legitimate in terms of our audience's interest, particularly the human stories. Others seemed trivial or at best secondary, not only in comparison to the weight of all the national media attention but because the affairs of the ad industry just seemed not to matter. The industry does matter, of course, and even this week it will begin to return to business as usual. At Ad Age, our journalists will work hard to be the first to report to our audience news about an account in review, a merger under discussion, a reorganization under way. We will strive, as we always do, to decipher the business of advertising, to put its news in perspective and context.

But on this ugly day, when thousands of bodies were still trapped in the wreckage, nothing else mattered. On the train out of Manhattan late Tuesday afternoon, when all I wanted to do was hold my kids, the ads that cluttered the car and station platforms offended by their mere presence. "I scream, you scream, we all scream for pork loin," shouted a poster at one station. I wanted to shred it.

It all seemed so insignificant. What difference did it make if a departing ad executive had left voluntarily or under pressure? Who cared which agency would walk away with the right to create advertising for a watery beer brand? Who really needed to know whether footage had been shot for a sports-drink commercial in anticipation of the ill-conceived return of an aging superstar? As I navigated through the TV channels that night, absorbing every bit of available information, it was clear others shared that feeling. The commissioner of baseball canceled all Major League games. The Emmy Awards were postponed. Broadway shows were shuttered. AOL Time Warner's basic cable networks carried the CNN feed in place of entertainment. HGTV and The Food Network went dark, their screens offering condolences to victims and their families rather than decorating tips and recipes. Thankfully, the kids networks kept their regular schedules.

It all does matter, and we will care again. We will care who wins the World Series. We will care whether Havas or WPP gets control of Tempus. We will watch the new sitcoms and laugh at humorous commercials again-not this week, but maybe next-because we will need to laugh.

As our editors decided how to approach this issue, we knew we had to strike a careful balance. We didn't want to offer any take that was not directly relevant to our readers' lives or to seem in any way like we were trying to assume a role best left to general news outlets. But it was silly and unthinkable to fill the issue with news that would appear irrelevant in relation to the aftermath of last week's tragedy.

All news is local. Crain Communications publishes a series of "community" newspapers, Rance Crain said to me last week, communities united in some cases by common geography, in others by common vocation.

This tragedy will likely, at least in the short term, affect the consumer psyche, and by extension the global economy. It will influence and guide business decisions. The role this newspaper can play is to try and help our community members make sense of what happened, to figure out what it means to them and to the industry to which they have dedicated their lives.

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