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Posted by on Nov 6, 2008 in Media, Politics | 0 comments

Newspapers’ Last Hurrah? Obama Election Victory Sparks Skyrocketing Newspaper Sales

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If only there could be a historic election to the presidency EVERY day. Then the newspaper industry’s multi-pronged problems could be solved. Wednesday seemed like the good, ‘ol days when Americans scrambled to get their news from the printed press’s newspapers — and were even willing to pay higher prices than normal to get it. The reason: voters wanted to read about Democrat Barack Obama’s presidential win — and save their newspapers for posterity.

Which makes sense. Saving a printout of a blog or Internet news site simply isn’t the same thing. So yesterday — for one, brief, shining moment — newspapers saw a fever pitched demand for their product again. The Los Angeles Times:

Apparently looking for something old to go with something new (Barack Obama) and something blue (a more Democratic Congress), the American people bought newspapers in huge numbers Wednesday, a day after the historic election of the nation’s first black president.

From the nation’s largest daily, USA Today, to its more modest broadsheets, newspapers expanded press runs to accommodate enormous sales. Some papers even sold special gift editions and framed front pages.

But news racks — even if they were replenished with copies — became barren in the blink of an eye as people scrambled to snag mementos for their memory books and mantelpieces. In Los Angeles, Miami and all points in between, people lined up to buy copies of their daily paper.

Suddenly, with Obama’s win that day, newspapers weren’t only to be read and then to be thrown away or used to line a cat litter box (a suitable place given the kinds of editorials some newspaper run) but they were to be read, framed — even sold by Internet scalpers:

The Chicago Tribune sold framed front pages for as much as $99. A single copy of the New York Times is said to have sold on EBay for $249.99, and another copy of that paper drew more than 20 bids before the auction closed — for $400.

Newspaper organizations saw this rush on their increasingly dissed and downsized products throughout the country.

The San Francisco Chronicle:

At a time when the industry is struggling to hold onto readers, newspapers around the country sold like hotcakes Wednesday as people scrambled to get their hands on a tangible souvenir of Barack Obama’s historic election as the nation’s first African American president.

“I want a document of this moment,” said Suné Woods, 33, of San Francisco after buying a special commemorative edition of The Chronicle. “I have a 4-year-old son, and I want him to be able to remember this time, so it’s important to have that physical document.”

From San Francisco to New York, news racks that normally have plenty of papers to spare during the day were stripped bare by midmorning. To meet the demand, publications like the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and The Chronicle restarted their presses to print thousands of additional copies to sell.

….At Fog City News on Market Street, people were lined up at the door before the newsstand opened at 8 a.m., and within a half hour, all copies of the New York Times and The Chronicle were gone.

Store manager Venee Ferrer said some Times subscribers came in or called looking for a copy because their editions had been stolen from their doorsteps.

Shahid Abdulla, 32, of Oakland scoured the Financial District for any newspaper before finding a commemorative edition of The Chronicle at Fog City News. Abdulla wanted one as a birthday present for his grandmother.

“She’s 81 years old today,” Abdulla said. “I’m sure she thought she might not see it happen. I’d love to be able to give her something that she can remember and maybe frame.”

Ginna Green of Oakland said in an e-mail that she “dropped all newspaper subscriptions a year ago, and yet, there I stood at DeLauer’s in Oakland for 15 minutes this morning. All they had were Oakland Tribunes and USA Todays, and I grabbed both. Then again, I also saved screenshots of major papers’ Web sites. Covering my bases.”

Chicago Sun Times:

Stephanie Mathies kick-started her holiday shopping Wednesday with the perfect gift: the Chicago Sun-Times heralding Barack Obama as the new president.

“I’m going to laminate that cover and send them out as Christmas gifts,” said Mathies, 39, who lives in the Austin neighborhood. “I have papers going to New York, Texas and Arizona — they’re getting a big copy — and I’m also saving one for my daughter.”

The Sun-Times presses were working overtime Tuesday and Wednesday to keep up with unprecedented demand.

Typically, about 250,000 Chicago Sun-Times hit the sidewalk boxes and store racks on any given Wednesday. Anticipating the election issue would be a hot seller, 335,000 were printed Tuesday night, said Tammy Chase, Sun-Times spokeswoman.

By Wednesday morning, with Oprah Winfrey on-air proudly holding an American flag in one hand and the Sun-Times in the other, 30,000 more copies were printed. Another 40,000 were printed mid-day, followed by 20,000 more Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday evening, 50,000 more were printed, destined for Chicago retail outlets like Walgreens, gas stations and 7-Elevens. Another 25,000 papers were going to suburban stores, where they would be sold along with Thursday’s paper, Chase said.

The grand total? 500,000 Chicago Sun-Times for the nation’s most discerning readers, a figure that doesn’t include those receiving home-delivery of the tabloid.

The Washington Post:

In this Twittering, podcasting digital age, the morning after America’s presidential election found thousands of people clamoring for something more old-fashioned and tangible: extra copies of the morning paper.

“You can’t put a computer screen into a scrapbook,” said Joyce Mutcherson-Ridley, 56, an office manager who came to The Washington Post’s 15th Street NW headquarters only to learn that the paper’s first printing, reporting the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president, had sold out by 11 a.m.

Milwaukee Journal:

Collectors seeking a paper to commemorate Barack Obama’s presidential victory swept up all the copies of Wednesday’s Journal Sentinel.

The newspaper cranked up its presses Wednesday afternoon to print 30,000 additional copies of the edition and distributed those copies throughout the Milwaukee area. The paper, featuring Obama’s picture and the headline “A new dawn,” quickly disappeared from street racks Wednesday morning after the Democrat’s presidential victory.

The Journal Sentinel had printed 30% more copies of Wednesday’s edition than normal. That wasn’t enough.

Staffers in the newspaper’s building at 333 W. State St. were limiting newspaper sales to two copies per customer by noon. About 50 people had lined up for copies by early afternoon and remained there until more papers were delivered for sale.

A popular — and crowded — place to be was a 7-Eleven – and not due to people’s sudden cravings for Slurpees. The Oakland Tribune:

Finding a newspaper Wednesday with the image of President-elect Barack Obama on the front page was like digging for gold. The day after Obama’s landslide victory, newspaper racks were laid bare by readers looking for a postelection memento and scalpers looking for a profit by reselling copies at inflated prices. Others had a different motive.

Christopher Carney stood in line at a Hayward 7-Eleven waiting for a newspaper Wednesday morning only to be told by the clerk, an African-American woman, that he would have to pay $5 for a copy. “If you want it, it’s $5,” the clerk replied when he refused, Carney said.

She then charged the next customer, another black woman, 50 cents, he said. “We’re trying to keep some for the brothers and sisters,” the clerk reportedly told Carnwey, who is white, when he asked why she was charging two prices.

“At first I was mad,” said Carney, a Hayward resident. The 7-Eleven store where the incident occurred is on Jackson Street, near Highway 92. “But a person is a person and money is money when it comes to a newspaper. We’re all just people.”

He bought a copy elsewhere and filed a complaint with the corporate 7-Eleven offices — he was told the company would investigate the matter. Calling the incident ironic, Carney said, “If Hillary Clinton had been elected would (the clerk) be saving all the papers for women?”

Elsewhere, papers were being bought by the stack and resold. Craiglist.org vendors were rumored to be offering copies for $200 or more.

Given months of stories about newspapers closing, downsizing, going on sale, offering buyouts, watching some of their key talent leave the industry for fear of being laid off or due to a realization that the Internet and young people’s reading habits are de-prioritizing their product, it was a quite a day. Wrote Peter Wasson, the Wausau Daily Herald’s Community Conversation Editor:

There’s still something about this first draft of history that people want and need. Just like the “Japs Surrender” edition of the Wausau newspaper hanging on my wall at home, copies of Wednesday’s paper will forever mark this transformational moment in our nation.

A newspaper is tangible. It’s a manifestation of time unfolding. It allows you to revisit a day’s events, to put yourself there, back in that temporal instant captured in a headline and a photo.

A screen shot on your computer just isn’t the same.

I love looking at old newspapers and imagining the reporters, editors and photographers who contributed to an edition.

Think about that heady day captured in the copy hanging on my living room wall. After four grueling years of war, facing down the evil of fascism and sending tens of thousands of young men to their deaths, it was over.

The Japanese had surrendered, and Wausau reporters told the story.

I’m thrilled to think that 60 or 70 years from now, someone will pull out a yellowed copy of Wednesday’s Wausau Daily Herald, tap Barack Obama’s photo on the cover and say, “That was something else, that day. A black man elected leader of the free world, just 40 years after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.”

Grab your copy off the recycling pile and put it in a drawer somewhere.

NPR’s Morning Edition saw something bittersweet about the moment:

For one rare day, newspapers made a comeback. Across the country, people flocked to newsstands to buy a written record of Barack Obama’s win. Having waited in long lines to vote, people waited in lines to collect the now historic front pages. The New York Times printed an extra 75,000 copies, and set up a makeshift stand directly outside its Manhattan building. And earlier on eBay, the papers were selling for $149.

So in the end what does this prove?

1. That the debate about whether newspapers are relics on life support goes on.

2. There’s no debate about whether newspapers remain a highly-sought after historical keepsake to keep, cherish and pass on.

By the end of the 21st century will there be enough around to keep, cherish and pass on?

Photo: New York Times

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