Post-Election Newspaper Sales: So I Guess Print Isn’t Dead!

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By: Joe Strupp

(Commentary) So I guess print newspapers are not dead after all. Well, for one day at least.

Maybe we need an historic election at least once a month.

Many of us who have been reporting for years on the declining demand for the daily miracle — in newsprint anyway — were both pleased and a bit perplexed to see Wednesday’s mad rush for Barack Obama editions.

The fact that millions still consider a newspaper the best way to preserve — and verify or validate — that history shows the impact newspapers have had during their entire existence.

Of course, watching the New York Times print 50,000 more copies, and the Chicago Tribune 200,000 and USA Today 380,000, one couldn’t help think that some kind of saving grace had reached the ever-declining print circulation world. I mean, when was the last time a major daily like The Washington Post put out a print extra? Some 600,000 copies worth, at that?

For a day at least, we who write about this industry and still prefer an un-thumbed daily newsprint read to Internet pops and whistles could bask in the glow that someone out there still likes it.

It seemed appropriate that a day after Americans elected their first black president, they also bucked the recent trend of giving up on the print paper. Sure, much, if not all, of the demand was for a souvenir item more than a news source.

Having a copy of the paper that reports the first black president ever elected is, to many, the same as having a World Series ticket stub or a piece of the Berlin Wall. And the fact that print papers are disappearing may have been part of the drive for these copies.

There will come a time, decades from now, when no daily print papers exist. Perhaps readers and voters wanted to get their piece of such history while they still can.

It was somewhat notable that the run on newsprint occurred just a week after the Christian Science Monitor became the first major daily to go predominantly Web, and just weeks after the latest dire news from the Audit Bureau of Circulations about diminishing circulation.

For me, it was an extra joy to read and hear about and report on the demand for print newspapers. Since I was a kid, I regularly collected copies of big news event editions and still have those from Richard Nixon’s resignation, the elections of Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes, as well as Sept.11 and numerous World Series victories.

Two front page reports on the New York Giants last Super Bowl win are hanging near my desk right now. I scooped up a few Obama Page Ones myself.

As several editors and newspaper spokespeople told me Wednesday, this is a piece of history, a souvenir that readers can save to mark the day when a black man reached the highest position of power.

Today, when so many people don?t even buy a daily paper and more rush to the Web for updates on news, gossip and the most badly-reported nonsense, seeing some turn to the daily print paper as a keepsake is impressive.

Part of the draw also had to be the great Page One designs that many of the Wednesday editions had. The Chicago Sun-Times stood out for its elegant portrait of Obama with the small “Mr. President” headline, while others used large type and moving photos to bring home the historic and poignant elements of this moment.

Of course, this one-day extravaganza for print copies that provided a nice bump for many newspapers — involving their revenue and egos — will not last. Many of the same people who stood in line or grabbed for copies of The Washington Post, New York Times and even the Detroit Free Press, do not subscribe to those papers and likely will not pick up another printed paper ever again.

But, for one day, it was nice to know that the power of the printed word, if not the historic overtones and rich design, is not completely dead. For many of us, it never will be. And it never will be replaced by the Internet. No matter how high Web traffic goes, or how low print circulation declines.

No Web report can have the same intimacy, flair or old-fashioned style of a real hold-in-your hands, leaf-through-page-by-page, print newspaper.

And thanks to yesterday, a lot more people will have a lot more newspapers to look back through some day and remember when. Remember not only when voters first elected a black president. But also when the daily paper was still around.

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