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Jane Dwyre Garton Headshot

Looking for Lessons in Those Long Lines Waiting to Buy Newspapers

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What will the newspaper business learn from the Wednesday morning, post-election record rush to purchase daily papers ? Will the lessons provide a little C.P.R. for an industry gasping to survive?

Newspaper publishers could have accurately yelled: "They love us. They really love us!" But what the readers-buyers-consumers really loved was a story of this young century: Barack Obama was elected President of the United States of America.

It seems most circulation managers misjudged their audiences for that day. In fact, mis-projecting their first press runs with the election news was not irreparable, just conservative. Saving that ink and newsprint for another day because people just don't read anymore was a no faith vote -- against readers.

Newspapers have clearly started to believe their own circulation figures -- which is far better than exaggerating their numbers. People were willing to wait in long (and celebratory) lines for multiple press runs that started to fill the demand.

Let's look for the lessons in those lines:

• Journalism is the first draft of history. Of course people would want copies. And with subscriptions dropping off, single issue sales were bound to burst.

• Readers know the difference between importance and fluff. They don't get all the news they need from the weather report and generally speaking in 2008 they don't get all the news they need from newspapers either. But on this day after, they could not get enough news.

• News organizations knew the election results -- and thus the story -- before deadline. It was not a Dewey-Truman gamble.

• In a world where newspapers are striving to be hyper-local, the whole world was local for this story.

• If it's important, they will buy it.

• Call it a keepsake and the company can make even more money.

• This was the edition that should have been a special target for advertising sales.

• This was an edition that will have a shelf life far beyond the day.

• This was the edition in which to offer a one-week free trial home delivery between now and the holidays -- a move that would appeal to retail advertisers and potential subscribers.

• This was the edition in which to give buyers a free coffee coupon with their post-election paper to set the mood for that new old habit: sipping your coffee and reading the news.

• And the Nov. 6 issue was one where newspapers should have printed a Thank You house ad.

Report sales numbers for Nov. 5.

Explain that you don't pay your bills with the cover price but that newspaper ad rates are based on circulation. That's why you need readers.

Describe what the day felt like with them back in the fold.

Include photos of people waiting in line on Nov. 5, 2008. The shortage story was news. Thank buyers for caring about their country.

Every time I hear someone say newspapers run sensational photos/headlines/stories "to sell papers," I cringe.

Look what sells papers: news.

Look at it carefully and you'll see the Presidential Election story was also something else.

Millions of people went to cast their votes on Nov. 4, 2008. Millions more had early voted and the world knew that for weeks before Nov. 4. When those votes were counted, a new President was elected. No hanging chads . No court rulings needed. Results announced. What voters did counted. Democracy was the news.

The Nov. 5, 2008, run on the newsstands was a parable from the people. They elected this man and they wanted to relive it with the printed page and save the news for their grandchildren.