Thursday, February 21, 2019

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Last weekend I saw the documentary Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People. Pulitzer, as you probably know from the prize named after him, was a major newspaper publisher in the late 19th and early 20th century. He ran two papers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The New York World. The World at one point took on massive proportions, including sheet music of the latest tunes and dress patterns of new fashion that one could make at home. The World was the Internet of the turn of the 20th century.

The movie mentioned the many editions of the paper during the day, including the extra edition. An extra edition came out because of some major breaking news story. Back then newspapers would drum up minor stories to sell extra editions but they tended to disappear over time.

Which brings me to Monday, August 19, 1991. Hard-line members of the communist party of the USSR attempted a coup to take over the government from Mikhail Gorbachev. To us in the US, this seemed like the cold war which appeared to be coming to an end might rekindle. At the time I lived in Chicago and on that Monday the Chicago Tribune ran an extra afternoon edition talking about the coup. The return to the cold war didn't happen. Within a couple of days the coup failed and if anything hastened the dissolution of the Soviet Republic.

That was probably the last of the extra editions. By the time of the next major historical event, ten years and twenty-three days later, we had the Internet and cell phones and one no longer needed a newspaper to tell you the world has changed.


  1. It seems that Obama's 2009 inauguration generated
    extra editions in 2009 which were designed as collectors items. (The article mentions that there were indeed 9/11 extra editions.)

    For all the discussion of the internet killing newspapers, it isn't the fact that people who were picking up newspapers for major news stories are now getting them online - they already had TV and radio news for that - that has done them in. It is the detailed sports scores, stock market quotes, and classified ads that one can get online that has really killed them. Other major draws were the comic strips and puzzle pages. The NYT Crossword is still one of their major revenue sources for subscriptions but the page of comic strips seems to have really lost its draw and does not seem to have been replicated online in any remotely equivalent form.

  2. The true "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" probably ended with the widespread use of radio. Assuming the type you mention, do you think there we no major events between August 19, 1991 and September 11, 2001 that might have gotten an extra edition? Start of the 1995 government shutdown? Something with President Clinton's sex scandals? US embassy attacks? Columbine? 2000 election things? Would you consider a literal "Stop the presses!" moment from a major newspaper like the New York Times similar? They did for the death of Osama bin Laden, many years after you claim people no longer needed newspapers.