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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

The last great day for the American newspaper?

My friend Tommy Tomlinson — Charlotte Observer columnist and current Nieman Fellow here — writes an idea that’s been churning in my head today:

I wonder if today was the last great day of the American newspaper. Printed copies sold out everywhere and lots of places (including my home paper in Charlotte) had extra press runs this morning and sold bookoodles of papers on the street. I’m thinking the printed paper will never have another day like this one.

I tried to pick up a New York Times this morning here in Cambridge — six stops, no papers. (A decent number of Boston Globes, though.) Gawker hit on this earlier today; as one commenter put it: “Actually, everyone’s just in line to get the historic LAST historic first NYT cover – by 2012 all it will be is the one-sheet they hand out for free at the gym.” For the record, if you want a copy of today’s NYT, the number for the back copy department is 800-543-5380. Here’s a photo of people standing on line at Times HQ this morning to buy a copy of the paper.

I never thought I’d type that sentence.

Tommy has another point:

I also wonder if the future of the print newspaper business might be based on commemoratives. Most of the people who bought today’s paper bought it as a keepsake — something that doesn’t translate to the Web. So maybe some webcentric paper of the near future puts out a print edition only for special occasions — the hometown football team makes the Super Bowl, the NASCAR race comes to town, a new president gets elected, etc.

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  • Scott

    Interesting to think about, but I don’t know that this is the last great day of the American newspaper, if only because the next ‘last great day’ will be Obama’s inauguration (barring some other huge historical event between now and then). And then the next last great day will be the day of the next major historical event … whatever that is. People are going to go online for real-time news of major events, and then they’re going to go to newspapers for depth, storytelling and/or the keepsake aspect. Though Tommy has a point about commemoratives as a potential future in a potential web-only world.

  • Andrea

    The Washington Post was similarly sold out in six places when I tried to get a second copy to mail to a friend who’s collecting national covers. They did a second run, and people stood in a line that went for blocks until the papers were ready. Tommy’s commemorative idea is interesting, but in the long run, I don’t know if people under 25 will attach the same sentimental value to print copies of the paper that their parents do.