Much will be written (spoken, televised, blogged) about where we older folks were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. Like most of my peers I was in a classroom. I remember that moment.
However, what I really remember about that very terrible weekend was how newspapers became a central focus of my life, an affair that has lasted for 50 years. I learned the power of the printed page and the excitement of a big news event.
Kennedy was killed on a Friday. On Saturday morning, I went off to work, selling the “bulldog” (early) editions of the San Francisco Sunday Chronicle and the Sunday San Francisco Examiner for 25 cents. My newsstand was in front of our neighborhood grocery store — a shady, windy but busy corner of commerce.
On a good Saturday, I might sell 100 papers, from 8 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. On Nov. 23, 1963, I’m sure I sold twice as many and begged to get more from the distributor, as shoppers hungered for information. The afternoon paper, the News Call Bulletin, sold out its multiple editions as well.
The shoppers who bought one or both newspapers asked questions like “What’s new?” or “What’s going on?” They wanted news and they even asked the paperboy. It was a powerful lesson in the role journalism plays within our society.
A couple of weeks after the event, on the newsstand inside that same grocery store, I came across a magazine that sealed my lifelong connection to newspapers. The United Press International, one of the country’s two wire services at that time, published “An historical collection of how 91 U.S. newspapers recorded John F. Kennedy’s tragic death.”
The magazine had front pages from Nov. 22-25. Morning and afternoon editions (some of us remember the PM newspapers) from around the country. It was labeled “Special Memento to Keep Forever.” It cost $1. I have kept it 50 years. That feels like forever.
I remember looking at the various newspapers and seeing how they covered the news during those four horrific days in November. There was and still is fascination about what stories were on those pages and how the pages were laid out (this is before the age of newspaper design).
I looked at how the headlines were different and at the powerful use typography and the diverse ways photos could be used. Each newspaper had its own beauty driven by the urgency and immediacy of events. There were words like “Third Extra” and “6 am Edition”. These were exciting concepts. And journalism seemed like an exciting profession. The next year, in high school, I signed up for the beginning journalism class.
Looking through the 91 front pages in 2013, there’s still the sadness from the event and the loss the country felt from Kennedy’s death and the shooting of the suspect.
There is also another sadness, sorrow for all of the papers in this collection that have ceased publication or merged with morning rivals. I counted more than 25 papers out of the 91 that have closed or merged.
However, there’s still excitement in thinking about the journalism that produced those newspapers and how much things have changed in those 50 years.
When I think about the Kennedy assassination, I also think about the journalism path that was before me.
Here are some of my favorite examples from the collection:
New York World-Telegram, Nov. 22
A strikingly huge headline for this afternoon newspaper takes up about half of the front page. The paper, merged into other newspapers in 1966, closed in 1967.
The Atlanta Journal, Nov. 22
The paper uses THIRD EXTRA to call attention to its latest edition, which had both national and local stories about the assassination. The Journal newsroom merged into its sister paper, The Atlanta Constitution, in 1982.
The Boston Globe, Nov. 22
The evening edition of the Globe had lots of elements on its page, some of which were probably left over from earlier editions of the paper, such as local stories. It is interesting to note the advertisements at the bottom of the page.
The Miami Herald, Nov. 23
A Saturday edition but with the urgency of story still visible, especially with the use of typography that led you into the story. On the bottom left, there was an editorial.
The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), Nov. 23
Some newspaper focused on the shooting, others, like the Ledger, provided a “second day” approach and focused on either President Johnson or the charging of a suspect.
Austin American-Statesman, Nov. 23
Another “second day” approach to the story from a city that was Kennedy’s next stop on his Texas visit (note story on bottom right). The whole page is framed in heavy black rule.
San Francisco Sunday Chronicle, Nov. 24
This was the final edition of the Sunday newspaper. Both San Francisco newspapers published editions as early as Saturday morning. One of the Chronicle’s signature typography treatments was the “wavy rule” box, left hand side of the page.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 25
Lee Harvey Oswald was shot on Sunday, on live television. Newspapers had to wait until Monday morning editions to run the pictures. It was a stunning turn of events as mourners were viewing Kennedy’s casket.
Daily News (New York City), Nov. 25
The Daily News had six full pictures pages that Monday. Not a common practice, the newspaper gave copyright and credit to the Dallas Times Herald photographer.
New York Journal American, Nov. 25
One of the most striking front pages in the collection of front pages. The paper merged with a rival in 1965 and closed in 1966.
San Francisco News Call Bulletin
As an afternoon paper on the West Coast, the paper had time to publish pictures from the funeral, including the iconic image of Kennedy’s three-year-old son, John. The News Call Bulletin was merged with the San Francisco Examiner in 1965.
Bob Lowry’s UPI collection, “UPI’s Trail of Tears,” has 131 newspaper front pages from that weekend, including the 91 that were published in the UPI magazine. Read more