In 1948, the Chicago Tribune famously printed over 100,000 copies of their November 3 issue emblazoned with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” The Republican-leaning Tribune expected that the GOP candidate Thomas Dewey would be elected President (the race was close, to be fair), and due to staffing problems and a printing process with a slow turn-around time, the Tribune had to go to press several hours before election results came in.
The Tribune printed a bold, entirely inaccurate headline, and Harry Truman was elected President and everyone found the newspaper’s gaffe to be hilarious. One of the most memorable stock photos from U.S. history textbooks is the shot of a grinning Truman holding the Tribune aloft, with “Dewey Defeats Truman” displayed for the world to see.
The Review, like the 1948 Tribune, must go to print before all the news is in, though in our situation, the turn-around time is a few days instead of a few hours.
Such is the nature of collegiate print journalism at a college without a journalism program in an age when print media seems to be dying off.
And yet, I see a unique value in the old-fashioned newspaper.
I predict that Barack Obama won the election, as I’ve been predicting all year. Sure, the race tightened up after Obama’s awful performance in the first presidential debate, but I think the memory of George W. Bush and the sex appeal of being the first African-American president were enough to buoy Obama to victory.
Obama took Florida. Probably.
Romney reclaimed Virginia and North Carolina for the GOP, but failed to carry Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. Probably. The economy is bad, but Romney’s proposed solutions were never presented as clearly or attractively as they needed to be. With little to latch on to, voters swung back to the incumbent.
Now I say all this, and I could be wrong. And that’s the beautiful thing about print journalism.
Tony Bradley, a writer for PCWorld.com, wrote, “Why the Demise of Print Media is Bad for Humanity” in March 2012. Bradley, who makes his living writing about technology on the Internet, argues against technology and writing on the Internet.
“Print media gives us a snapshot that can’t be undone,” writes Bradley. “Even if subsequent histories are rewritten, the original texts still reveal a different truth. If our only source of written history is digital, though, it can be altered to fit the whims or ruling political agenda of the day, and basically can never be fully trusted.”
Bradley implies something sinister: the 1984-esque possibility of information being altered or erased on the whim of an authority, leaving humanity without an accurate historical record. I’m concerned about the impermanence of electronic media on serious grounds, to be sure, but I also have a far more sentimental case to make.
Print media is more genuine than electronic media.
The Internet allows humans to quickly post, edit, and re-post information. We end up with a lot more information, delivered more quickly and more accurately than our grandparents could have ever imagined, but the information we receive is either trivial or trivialized. Every bit of information is temporary and replaceable, and worst of all, writers post stories with the confidence that they can later touch up their work. Mistakes are made, fixed, and forgotten.
In print media, on the other hand, writers must plan ahead, and they have no recourse once the final product is in the hands of the public. The print journalist is, then, vulnerable in a way that I find humanizing.
Would the “Dewey Defeats Truman” gaffe have ever occurred nowadays? Of course not. And American history would be one humorous anecdote poorer.
Newspapers have always provided “snapshots that can’t be undone,” and I think such snapshots enrich the human experience. The Internet can be cold and impersonal, partially because writers online can hide behind different personas or the mask of anonymity, and partially because everything on the Internet is so terribly fleeting. A newspaper, on the other hand, is human in ways that online writing never can be. A newspaper is tangible and, in some cases, flawed.
To be tangible and flawed is to be human.
So as you read this editorial on the 8th of November, two days after the presidential election, appreciate the significance of a permanent record of human events. And if your name happens to be Mitt Romney and you happen to have won the election, feel free to pose with this newspaper.