November 10, 2008

Extra! Extra! Newspaper Souvenirs Beat Web By a Landslide

Who said newspapers were dead?

In the aftermath of President-elect Barack Obama’s historic election, hundreds of people from coast to coast lined up to snap up extra and commemorative newspaper souvenirs marking the event. In many cases, demand was unprecedented.

USA Today sold an extra 380,000 copies and sold more online. The Washington Post has printed a total of 1,050,000 "Commemorative Election" editions since November 5. The Chicago Tribune "printed more than 1.1 million copies of the November 5 edition, about 410,000 more than we normally print," the paper’s communications manager said. The Los Angeles Times printed 200,000 extra copies and "expect that number to increase," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had to reprint five times for a total of 248,000 extra newspapers.

What drives people to seek out newspaper mementos of events like Obama’s election? The answer lies in the newspaper itself — hard, tangible proof of a significant occurrence that can be touched, held and saved for future generations. As a reader explained in the Washington Post: "You can’t show your children your BlackBerry or your computer screen."

The Newseum’s daily display of newspaper front pages from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and countries around the world attracted a steady flow of tourists and news crews the day after the election outside the building on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Newseum’s Web site saw an 800 percent jump in the number of views to the Front Pages section. Commemorative posters of the front pages will soon be available online and in the Newseum store.

At a time when news publications are cutting their losses and moving exclusively to the Web, Obama’s unparalleled election proves that when it comes to preserving memories, high tech takes a back seat to good old-fashioned paper.

A look through the Newseum’s archive of historic front pages provides a close-up look at some of the past key events that merited extra editions.

  • The Maryland Gazette gave readers something extra on Sept. 22, 1787: a special printing of the U.S. Constitution. The two-sided broadsheet was labeled "Extraordinary," likely the word from which the newspaper expression "extra" was derived.

  • The London Gazette’s "extraordinary" in June 1815 carried Wellington’s report of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. The French Suplement Extraordinaire Du Moniteur, published a day before the Gazette, described Napoleon’s movements before the decisive battle.

  • • In January 1840, the luxury steamer Lexington burned and sank off Long Island. Nearly 150 passengers and crew died. The New York Sun published "extra" editions with illustrations, some hand-colored, others lithographed in black-and-white by Nathaniel Currier.

  • • South Carolina’s secession from the Union in December 1860 was heralded in a broadside extra edition of the Charleston Mercury. Less than four months later, the Mercury published another extra, reporting the opening shots of the Civil War — the attack on Fort Sumter.

  • • Within 90 minutes after President Abraham Lincoln died from an assassin’s bullet on April 14, 1865, The New York Herald published an extra with the dreadful news. The paper also carried reports from earlier editions detailing the attacks on Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward.

  • • Joe Louis’s first-round knockout of Max Schmeling in 1938 prompted a "Fight Extra" from Boston’s Daily Record. The rematch between American Louis and German Schmeling held worldwide interest. "We need muscles like yours to beat Germany," President Franklin D. Roosevelt reportedly told Louis before the fight.

  • • An hour after the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin published a "1st Extra" edition. The issue contained a preliminary list of the dead and injured, information on school closings and an editorial about how Hawaii will meet the "crisis."

  • • Elvis Presley, the "king of rock ’n’ roll," died on Aug. 16, 1977, at his Memphis mansion. Swamped with requests for extra copies of their Aug. 17 issues, the Memphis Press-Scimitar and The Commercial Appeal jointly published a special "Elvis Presley Edition" a week later.

  • • The Los Angeles Times published an extra edition on Oct. 3, 1995, when a California jury acquitted former football star O.J. Simpson in the murders of his former wife and a male friend of hers. Simpson’s trial attracted a swarm of news media from around the world.

These front pages and other headlines of history have a remarkable shelf life and are on display in the Newseum’s News Corporation News History Gallery.

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