Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Day Frozen In Time

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
(Or tuck it away for posterity)

Newspapers as instant history

Occasionally, over the course of my 40 years at The Baltimore Sun, I would be called on to visit a school and talk about newspapers. I would bring a sampling of them – the type with gaudy front pages after a monster storm, a big fire, the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

And I would hold up a copy of my old newspaper from Jan. 16, 1946, when almost nothing of interest happened but it had cost me 40 bucks. It was the day I was born, and the newspaper likely was being printed about the same time (12:04 a.m.) when I was coming down the chute.

Newspapers, I would tell the children (usually ages 12-14), present history in slow motion. Stop-action, even. A frozen day in time. How important that day of history is may depend upon who is reading or keeping that edition.

Wednesday, newspapers across the world froze a day in time for posterity. Some did it really, really well. Some... could have been better.

I say this because I went off to work in the morning (a temporary, part-time editing gig with the weekly Baltimore Business Journal) and neglected to buy a copy of The Washington Post.

I had The Baltimore Sun, of course – it arrived in its usual yellow plastic bag in the grass just off the driveway, in better-than-usual condition. I opened it at work downtown – more about what I saw later.

In the evening, on the way home, the Post was nowhere to be found, not in the vending machines, the gas stations, convenience stores or supermarkets – not even in the semi-redneck parts of my Pasadena community.

By today, Thursday, it and the likes of The New York Times and USA Today are all over eBay -- dozens of listings, including one offering a still-wrapped bundle of the Wednesday Post's final edition at more than $300.

Some newspapers totally get it. They were presenting history writ very, very large, with a front page telling in an instant that your grandchildren should hold it some day and marvel at the keepsake. An heirloom that, if not cared for, will by then be flaking around the edges on the way to becoming dust.

I once bought a copy of The New York Times from the day my late mother was born in 1914, a Sunday, and presented it at her surprise 80th birthday party. (Couldn’t find an intact Baltimore paper.) Taken out of its thick plastic packing, the Sunday Times crumbled a bit in her hands. It wasn’t a very special day in anyone else’s history so just its existence in 1994 was amazing. (I also read from a microfilm printout of that day’s Baltimore Sun a small travel advertisement for fall bookings on the steamship Lusitania – whose sailing the next spring didn’t turn out very well.)

But some newspapers can be so very special. Like the editions of Nov. 5, 2008.

The Baltimore newspaper, a victim of its recent redesign, wasn’t bad. It had a half-page-deep Associated Press photo of a waving Obama from the torso up, against a dark background, with an out-of-focus flag behind him in the nighttime setting at Chicago’s Grant Park. (The better photo, in black-and-white atop Page 5 of the inside-the-paper Election Section, from McClatchy-Tribune, showed Obama, his wife and children walking onto the slightly elevated stage and dwarfed by the enormous crowd assembled as far as the eye could see, and the lighted city skyline a distant but dramatic backdrop.)

The front-page headline, in yellow, declared “It’s Obama” with a much smaller five-liner in white just below and to the right: “Democrat gains historic victory, will be the nation’s first black president.”

Under the fold, played with the main story at center-page, was a smallish John McCain, also in front of an out-of-focus flag, looking constipated.

(A sticker advertisement had to be peeled off the page top, next to Obama’s open hand, taking with it some of the ink and leaving a rectangular patch of gray dots.)

I hate to say my old paper blew it. But I could still find a few copies in vending machines and at stores on the way home. (The newspaper announced it would be selling a reprinted edition of some 45,000 in stores on Thursday, to address demand, and I bought a pair of them for my collection. The Post was producing a commemorative edition of its Wednesday paper costing $1.50, double or more the usual daily price. It didn't get to my neighborhood.)

But here’s what’s fascinating – you can look at the day’s front pages of 714 newspapers from around world online, courtesy of the Newseum (hopefully they’ll all still be available for viewing when you click on the “Archive” link at this site:

Check out the papers of Nov. 5, 2008. You’ll see The Baltimore Sun, which I feel didn’t quite rise to the moment as visually or powerfully as many of the others.

Among the first couple at the Newseum site, I kind of liked the Los Angeles Daily News’ ‘A NEW DAWN’ and the Tahoe Daily Tribune AMERICA CHOOSES CHANGE and the New Haven Register’s HISTORIC VICTORY and the Palm Beach Post’s HISTORY.

Scroll through this amazing presentation and savor the moment. HISTORY, also writ large on the Kansas City Star and so many others.

The Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey:

The Albuquerque Journal: HISTORIC DAY IN AMERICA


So many of them, all in big, bold caps, telling what we already knew.

They’re newspapers you don’t even have to read, although the stories in them likely are terrific.

Remember this new day in your heart, and tuck your newspaper away somewhere safe.
But if you have a copy you don’t need, my address is P.O Box 1152, Pasadena, MD 21123. I have a little more room in the old steamer trunk.

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