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Gotham’s pub biz scrambles in crisis

News mags face major restructuring

As emergency services struggled last week to dig Lower Manhattan from the rubble, the city’s newsrooms were faced with another kind of heavy lifting: How to cover a fast-breaking story that defied comprehension, played willy-nilly with production schedules, destroyed newsrooms and phone service.

And they had to practically reinvent themselves along the way, with mags covering entertainment or sports, especially, confronting the reality that their usual news was no longer the news.

Editors tore up editorial plans, dispatched reporters behind police barricades and scrambled to analyze a sequence of events still enveloped in mystery. Advertisers, meanwhile, began the delicate business of re-evaluating ad copy and images that could be construed as distasteful in light of the tragedy.

Goodbye advertorial on overseas tourism. Hello full-page requests for donations to the Red Cross.

No news outlet suffered more than the Wall Street Journal, whose headquarters, staffed with 400 employees, were at One World Financial Center, across the street from the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

“Many of our employees saw the two planes crash and the buildings falling,” says spokeswoman Vickee Adams.

The Journal’s Sept. 12 edition was edited in the Upper West Side apartment of deputy editor Byron E. Calame and laid out in Washington D.C. While the company has been told its building is structurally sound, the entire newsroom has been relocated indefinitely to South Brunswick, N.J. Less than 5% of its downtown staff remains unaccounted for.

The New Yorker, the sole Conde Nast mag to remain open, had already scratched next week’s lineup for a package on the attacks. Subsisting as it does on a steady diet of travel ads, however, the mag saw several clients pull out, shrinking its ad pages from 39 to approximately 25.

With its weekend deadlines, the New Yorker was well positioned to tilt its coverage to last week’s events. People and BusinessWeek had less than less than two days to do so, but both rejiggered content and covers to suit the week’s news.

Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report also mobilized quickly, rushing mid-week specials to newsstands in huge print runs.

Entertainment Weekly wasn’t so lucky. Saddled with a Tuesday closing, the staff opted to stick with its original plans. The Sept. 17 issue boasts a cover photo of pop star Michael Jackson.

One magazine exec called EW’s decision to proceed with business as usual “offensive.” But with the story of the attacks shifting radically hour by hour, a Michael Jackson cover isn’t necessarily offensive. It’s simply irrelevant.

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