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Nov. 7, 2018, 2:27 p.m.
Reporting & Production

In cities across America, this morning’s newspaper told you there was an election yesterday — but nothing about it

To save money on newsprint and late press runs, Gannett told its newspapers not to bother printing results and to direct the curious online. Here’s how that played out.

Big night! The U.S. midterm elections yesterday mostly went according to expectations: Democrats retook the House of Representatives, Republicans kept (and grew) their control of the Senate, and a variety of governor’s races went a variety of ways.

Back when I was a kid, the best source of information on a big slate of elections was the next day’s newspaper, which would be stuffed full of results, election-site vox pops, color from watch parties, and photos of politicians both ecstatic and deflated. But as our Ken Doctor reported last week, America’s largest newspaper chain, Gannett, decided to do things differently this year. Rather than push back printing deadlines to accommodate the evening’s tallies, Gannett papers were to report…no results. “Go to our website” was the mantra. “It’s updated more than once a day, ya know”:

When long-time readers of the Des Moines Register, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or Fort Myers News-Press open up their papers Wednesday morning, they’ll see hardly anything in the way of results. They may see stories on voter turnout totals or “wrap-ups on the voting scene” or “a look ahead to what readers can expect in the days ahead.” Even on Thursday, when nearly all vote totals should be in, don’t expect to see newsprint used when cheaper pixels can do the job; the complete election results will be online, Amalie Nash, executive editor for local news at Gannett’s USA Today Network, told me Wednesday.

It’s a move both to push readers online and to reduce costs. The cost savings come in and around print production.

Ken’s piece generated a lot of discussion, so I figured I’d check in to see how this morning’s paper looked if you lived in a Gannett market. (These images are all via the Newseum.)

It looks pretty spare — but it appears some Gannett papers did get dispensation to give their high-price-paying print readers a little late-breaking detail.

In Iowa, a state proud of its place in national politics, the Des Moines Register had nothing on the controversial Steve King — just “Turnout heavy across Iowa.”

In Indianapolis, the Star let readers know the “Opportunity to vote proves worth the wait.” Hopefully, the results proved worth waiting for too. Senate candidates Mike Braun and Joe Donnelly were “glad to see voters coming out in droves” — though in the end, only Braun was happy about it.

Other cities with where Gannett seems to have printed no results: Burlington, Vermont (“HAVING THEIR SAY”):

Greenville, South Carolina (“Heavy voter turnout in Greenville County”):

Cincinnati, Ohio (“Long lines, glitches,” though a Cincinnati–Ohio State basketball game is the centerpiece, not Richard Cordray–Mike DeWine):

Rochester, New York (“Voter registration sets record” — note that’s registration, not even the more timely turnout):

Reno, Nevada (“Voters flock to the polls”):

Louisville, Kentucky (“Kentucky, Indiana voters flock to polling places”):

My hometown paper in Lafayette, Louisiana (“Voting was brisk and stickers were scarce in Lafayette Parish”):

St. Cloud, Minnesota (“Some lines, but steady at St. Cloud-area polls”):

Asheville, North Carolina (a voting photo below “Brushy Knob to be permanently protected”):

In Pennsylvania, York Daily Record readers got only “Long lines, friendly faces” (topped by a photo of a man who, while I’m sure he’s totally pleasant, doesn’t look unusually friendly in it?):

York’s an interesting case since it’s still a two-newspaper town — and while it’s operated under a JOA, the rival York Dispatch was apparently to get later deadlines and a live quote from Governor Tom Wolf’s victory speech:

Some Gannett papers were able to get at least a mention of a result on the front page, though — usually in bigger markets.

In Texas, El Paso’s native son Beto O’Rourke “draws spotlight,” but then again, he’s done that for quite a few months now. But note that the El Paso Times did manage to sneak in O’Rourke’s defeat — in the subhead and in the awkwardly squeezed-in second graf. There’s also a classic candidate party photo at bottom right; Veronica Escobar won a reliably Democratic district by 31 percentage points, so no one needed to wait for a tally.

Meanwhile, Gannett Texas readers in Abilene, Corpus Christi, and Wichita Falls got no results.

New Jersey’s Bergen County Record did something similar to El Paso: The election result in its Senate race gets crammed into the subhead and second graf of a separate story about campaign spending.

One place that stood out was Florida, where Gannett papers were able to get local or state results on the front page — even, in some markets, the late-breaking result of the Ron DeSantis–Andrew Gillum governor’s race.

In Milwaukee, the Journal Sentinel was able to get in Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s easy reelection but not the result of the big Scott Walker–Tony Evers governor’s race. (That’s understandable, though, given that the AP didn’t call that race until 1:20 a.m. this morning.)

The Arizona Republic, thanks no doubt in part to its time zone, was able to get the national House flip in, as well as the governor’s easy reelection (thought only in a subhead). The tight Senate race doesn’t get called, but that’s again very understandable since the AP still hasn’t called it as of this afternoon and it could take days to finalize.

Memphis got a turnout story but also the governor’s race result:

Meanwhile, sister paper The Tennessean in Nashville was able to shoehorn in two statewide results (that second graf seems to be place to go):

The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, was able to report that there were no surprises — a predicted runoff in one Senate race and expected reelections in other contests.

And in Michigan you could see the market-size issue play out. In Battle Creek (pop. 52,347), readers just got turnout:

In Lansing (pop. 114,297), the headline is still generic, but the gubernatorial winner gets noted for her “decisive, easy win” in a subhead:

And in Detroit (pop. 673,104), readers of the Free Press got something closer to traditional next-day coverage: a relevant headline, a victory photo, quotes from the winner, and — the only time I saw this in my scanning of Gannett front pages — some actual (if partial) vote totals.

So was all this a reasonable compromise for a time-limited medium? Were print newspaper subscribers — who tend to be older and have often been loyal readers for decades — satisfied with hitting the iPad in the morning for results? Or was this the sort of thing that can make a subscriber turn into an angry caller to Circulation to an ex-subscriber?

Gannett will know the answer to that soon enough.

All that said: If you don’t publish any election results, you also can’t screw up any election results.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email ( or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     Nov. 7, 2018, 2:27 p.m.
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