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Columbia Missourian

A front page suitable for framing

By Tom Warhover
November 21, 2008 | 12:00 p.m. CST

Well, it’s unofficially official: John McCain has won the election for president.

In Missouri.

The Associated Press on Thursday reported that all the votes had been counted, and McCain defeated President-elect Barack Obama by 3,632 votes.

I’m glad we finally got that resolved. I was on edge.

The Missourian’s general manager, Dan Potter, didn’t wait for the state results to begin selling posters of the Nov. 5 front page. I’m sure you’ve seen the page; there are ads online and in print.

Dan says sales are steady.

The Los Angeles Times’ Jim Rainey says cash registers are ringing all over the land. The Times is selling front page reproductions on T-shirts, mugs, magnets and even – gasp – newsprint.

Rainey asks – and answers — whether it all somehow taints the impartiality of the newsroom. Most journalists, he says, “are confident that newsrooms can maintain objectivity, while marketing departments sell what they can at a moment of enormous public engagement.”

My take on the question in a moment. First, some background: The front page was conceived as “poster-like” but wasn’t created for poster sales.

Front-page options were discussed weeks before the actual election. Editors weren’t making predictions so much as playing the “what if” game.

In one scenario, the election was called early in the evening. If so, a front page that said “Obama (or McCain) wins” would hardly surprise most readers.

The other possibility, “too close to call,” was the headline du jour of the past two presidential elections.

Editors knew one thing: No matter who won, the race was historic. The election would put either a black man or a woman in the top spots of the executive branch of our government.

And so we talked about a special page in print, one that captured the emotion of the night, while reported the most up-to-date news.

Ideas before Nov. 4 allowed for quick and creative thinking the night of the election. Alexandra McGuffie designed the front.

Her work has been noticed – the Poynter Institute is considering the Missourian’s front page as one of 75 across the world it will use in a book to be published soon.

Journalists don’t need to apologize for the business of newspapering. The entire industry is suffering from an alarming spiral of dropping advertising and circulation revenue.

There are plenty of potential problems with business managers making a dime or two directly from news content. This isn’t one of them.