Newspaper sales, TV ratings surge on election

For a change, some good news in the news business.

TV ratings and newspaper sales surged Wednesday in the Carolinas and elsewhere as people sought news of Barack Obama's historic election, a temporary reversal of the downtrend besetting major media in a time of shrinking advertising budgets and fragmenting audience attention.

Some newspapers, including The Charlotte Observer, had to restart presses Wednesday because of high demand.

Anticipating higher than normal sales, the Observer increased its Wednesday press run by 16,000.

“They were flying off the shelves and many people were buying multiple copies,” said Kirk Wilson, the Observer's home delivery manager. At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the newspaper turned the presses back on and ran off more than 20,000 more, which sold briskly.

Angel Roseboro was one of hundreds who came to the Observer building on South Tryon Street for extra copies. She bought four – three were going to family members and one was destined to be hung as a poster in her living room. “It even matches my furniture,” she said.

“It is one of our strongest sellers in quite some time,” said Wilson. “Definitely a piece of history that people want to have a piece of.”

Other huge issues in the Observer's history include the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, Dale Earnhardt's death in Daytona and the No. 1 seller of all, the passing of Elvis.

At The News & Observer in Raleigh, the presses were turned back on during the lunch hour for an extra run of about 10,000 papers, said Jim Puryear, vice president of circulation. Tuesday night, the capital daily had already added 11,000 papers to its normal press run.

“We had stores calling at 10 this morning for more,” he said.

In 2004, The N&O sold about 2,500 extra papers for George Bush's re-election. Puryear estimated The N&O, which has a daily circulation of about 165,000, would sell up to 20,000 extra copies of Wednesday's Obama edition.

Scrounging in Winston-Salem

At the Winston-Salem Journal, the Wednesday press run was increased to add 4,000 extra copies for newsstands, but they quickly sold out.

“We anticipated a rush, but I guess we underestimated,” said publisher Michael Moore. Leftover copies at the paper's printing plant were salvaged, but could not meet demand, he said.

Later this week the 84,000-circulation daily plans to reprint the historic front page as a poster and insert it into copies, he said.

In Salisbury, home of Sen. Elizabeth Dole who lost Tuesday's election, the Salisbury Post did not add any papers to its press run, said Ron Brooks, director of circulation. Dole is not a big sales generator for the 21,300-circulation newspaper, he said.

But the election did spur some comment from partisans. Brooks said he got two or three phone calls from people threatening to cancel their subscriptions because of the Page One headline about Obama winning.

“I said to them, ‘Would you feel better if it had said McCain Lost?'”

South Carolina's largest newspaper, the 100,000-circulation State, increased its election night run by 5,000 papers but had to print 10,000 more on Wednesday to meet demand.

“People were pulling them out of the carriers' hands as they were going into the stores,” said Pat McFarland, vice president of circulation for the Columbia newspaper. “It's been so long since we've had something like that.”

Today's State will include a reprint of Wednesday's front section with updated results, said publisher Henry Haitz III, and 13,000 extra copies will be distributed to sales outlets.

TV news ratings surge

Local television stations got unusually high ratings Tuesday night, particularly late in the evening as returns poured in.

Nielsen figures on Wednesday showed that in the Charlotte market, nearly 80 percent of households were tuned in to TV during prime time, a number that rarely exceeds 65 percent on a normal night. Even at midnight, when Obama gave his victory address, 52 percent of households were still watching. On a normal Tuesday in November, that number is about 35 percent.

WSOC (Channel 9) led the ratings in prime time, and nationally, ABC was the most-watched network.

Preserving Newspapers

Here are tips from Anne Lane of the Charlotte Museum of History on preserving newspapers.

Avoid storing them in a place with high or fluctuating temperatures and humidity.

Keep them in a dry, cool, dark place.

Corrugated or other cardboard boxes, manila folders, plastic bags from stores or dry cleaners or wooden furniture can give off gas that can harm paper.

Use acid-free boxes, folders made from acid-free materials or old sheets or pillowcases.


-- Marion Paynter

Related stories from Charlotte Observer