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DEAR READER: In digital age, snapshots of a day in news still available

Friday, May 25, 2012 | 5:35 p.m. CDT

Generations of Columbians have collected newspapers. The pages might reflect moments of wide public interest — the first human to step foot on the moon, the attacks on Washington, D.C., and New York on 9/11 — or deep personal benchmarks — the birth of a child or the death of a friend.

The newspaper of that day represents a snapshot of our town and our world.

I keep my mementos in a box under a dozen boxes in the back of the utility room in a corner of the basement. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Ronald Reagan’s re-election in 1984. A copy of the Student Prints, my eighth-grade newspaper. Most aren’t yellowed; I use Saran Wrap.

They’ll last a lot longer than a digital snapshot. Then again, I don’t have the chance to see a copy of La Prensa or The (Karachi, Pakistan) Express Tribune at Daniel Boone Regional Library like I can at Newseum.org.

You can find newspapers’ front pages with a couple of clicks. The Newseum site carries replicas of print edition front pages from around the world. It’s especially interesting on big news days. You can see then the editorial judgments that went into the various page designs around the same story.

On Friday, for instance, I found how the New Orleans Times-Picayune played the big news about the Times-Picayune. “Newspaper to move focus to digital,” read the banner headline. In fact, the whole front page was taken with the topic, save one article at the bottom left about a guy paying for sex videos.

That newspaper and others in the Advance Publications chain are reducing the frequency of print publishing in favor of digital delivery. In New Orleans, that means online news seven days a week and a print edition every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Sound familiar? It’s been a couple of years since the Missourian dropped its print delivery on Saturdays and Mondays.

The headlines in Advance Publications front pages have ranged from straight ahead to the Pollyannaish (Mobile Press-Register: “Exciting changes for our readers”). Columnists in places like The Washington Post find that the tea leaves of the Times-Picayune portend of – wait for it – the death of newspapers. Newspapers are more likely to fail from tired assumptions than from the size or frequency of newsprint.

A more immediate rub: What happens to the snapshot — to the daybook, if you will — of a newspaper when its only version is online?

Check out pastpages.org. It archives online home pages, several times a day. The L.A. Times’ Ben Welsh created the site on weekends and other spare time to help scholars and page designers, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

What was in the Columbia Missourian on Monday? At 11 a.m., there was a neat story and photo about a high school flute trio, an update on the MU softball victory, and an analysis of the just ended, anemic legislative session. The home page at 11 p.m. reported the Tigers’ next opponent this weekend in the super regionals, updated us on the location of Rush Limbaugh’s bust, and outlined a host of photos and articles about the one-year anniversary of the Joplin tornado.

It’s not as much fun as discovering a 1952 A-section of the (Linn, Mo.) Unterrified Democrat in the bottom of a dresser drawer. But it’s pretty neat.

Tom

Tom Warhover is the executive editor of the Missourian. Contact him by email at warhovert@missouri.edu or by phone at 882-5734.


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