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Nov. 5, 2008, 4:43 p.m.

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.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email (joshua_benton@harvard.edu) or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     Nov. 5, 2008, 4:43 p.m.
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