Newspapers as Souvenirs

05/04/2011 05:09 pm 17:09:06 | Updated Jul 04, 2011

By the time I picked up my copy of the San Francisco Chronicle the morning after Osama bin Laden's death, I had already consumed every piece of national news within its pages.

It may be sad, but it's the first paper I bought all year. I can count on one hand how many I bought all last year, and I work in journalism, a field in which the decline of print is a sad and sentimental thing.

The fact of the matter is this: I didn't buy the bin Laden newspaper because I wanted to find out more about the U.S. military operation that took him down in Pakistan; I already knew more than the paper could tell me. I bought it because it was tangible representation of massively important historic event, and I wanted to save it.

The Chronicle dedicated Monday's entire front page to the take-down, with a large photo of bin Laden in the background and bold text running along the margins of the image: "U.S. kills Osama bin Laden." This issue didn't look like the previous day's Chronicle, and it doesn't look like the one that hit newsstands this morning. Most papers did something similar.

It was a special cover for a special event, and I wanted to tuck it away in a closet to preserve the moment.

My dad has a stack of old papers stowed away at our house: The Challenger disaster, the Northridge earthquake, Kirk Gibson's World Series home run, and of course September 11th.

Print newspapers have a way of anchoring us to these significant moments so that we remember where we were when they happened. They allow us to physically grip the news in our hands and run the events through our heads, to relive them way down the line.

In this respect, print newspapers obliterate the web, where every moment is deemed irrelevant by the next.

That issue of the Chronicle will remain far more enjoyable down the line than anything I could have bookmarked or archived on my web browser.

The New York Times printed more than twice their normal number of issues on Monday, according to Mashable. They also printed 40,000 extra copies for newsstands in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Newspaper sales spike during these kinds of events not because people are clamoring for more news and information; most people already know the details by the time they hit the presses.

These historic papers sell in mass amounts because there is no web equivalent to this kind of collector's item. They're cool, and they do such a great job of embodying the gravity of the news in a way that it permanent and tangible. It's the opposite of the web. It forces the rapidly unrolling developments to stand still for a second.

When I slipped my three quarters into the metal box and grabbed my issue of the paper, I stood still on the cold sidewalk for a second and digested the core of the news one more time. When I got on the bus a few minutes later, I tucked the paper carefully in my backpack because I didn't want to spill my coffee on it.

I picked up the news coverage online when I got to work a half-hour later.