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updated: 5/5/2011 12:15 AM

It takes a local touch to bring a global story home

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"This," said Executive Editor Madeleine Doubek to a meeting of Daily Herald editors planning stories for Tuesday's editions on the killing of Osama bin Laden, "is one of those rare cases where world events trump local news for us." It says something about our local commitment that Doubek made it a point to reassure editors that for this story, surely the biggest since the 2001 terrorist attacks themselves, our presentation would veer dramatically from our usual concentration on news arising in the Chicago suburbs.

Of course, anything less would carry parochialism to that ridiculous extreme parodied so brilliantly three decades ago by National Lampoon with a massive headline describing the ruined vacation of two local residents, subsuming details of a mythical earthquake that destroyed Japan.

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Yet, while we knew that the burning questions on suburban minds Monday centered on topics like how authorities tracked bin Laden, what the "firefight" President Obama had loosely referenced the night before was really like and what the implications are for our military presence in the Middle East, we also knew that there are important local elements to the bin Laden story that reach far deeper into the serious hearts of suburban readers than interest in the petty travel habits of our neighbors.

Our challenge was to report the story of bin Laden's death in the reverential context of its full global significance, while also showing how the shock waves of bin Laden's life and death directly affected life in our corner of the world. That two-pronged goal shaped a wide-ranging discussion of photo possibilities and story topics, and out of it, copy editor Jaime Swanson produced a front page for Tuesday's editions that managed to convey both the sweeping national scope of this news event and the heartbreaking connections that make it a moving local story. That front page, indeed the entire Tuesday edition as well as much of our continuing coverage, does much to emphasize why a local news organization is so important for coverage even of a major international story.

It is one thing, and an important thing to be sure, to report the story of the killing of our era's most-feared international terrorist with all its global nuance and context. But only the Daily Herald could tell the story in quite this way for suburban readers. Only the local newspaper can put this community's face, this region's unique memories and experience, this community's peculiar mix of relief, sorrow and gladness on a story like this.

That recognition is evident a little counter-intuitively in some of the viewer response to the bin Laden story. Anticipating unusual demand in Monday's paper, the Daily Herald, like most newspapers, printed thousands of extra copies, and readers quickly snapped them up. But people also were interested in how different communities viewed the story, so much so, according to The Associated Press, that visitors brought down The Newseum's "Today's Front Pages" website for a time.

The ripples of this story will continue for years. The president's decision to withhold pictures of bin Laden's dead body is just one of the first of many controversies and developments that will emerge over time. On the surface, these developments may be no different in, say, New York City or San Diego than in the Chicago suburbs, and in that sense, they may occasionally "trump" local news in their interest and presentation. But they still will always feature a depth and impact that can be assessed only locally -- and only by a newspaper committed to that assessment.

Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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