Multiply that by three and you’re still one “extra” short of the whopping seven editions the New York Herald published in the 18 hours following President Lincoln’s assassination.
Today, all seven of those editions are on view at Washington, D.C.’s, Newseum for the first time since their publication.
The one-room odyssey takes visitors through each of the text-only copies with help from Newseum standards: a well-produced video, striking graphic design and a toy telegraph for children.
“In the early days, more newspapers were sold on street corners than as home delivery-type subscriptions, so it was in the interest of the people who sold them, the vendors, often kids, to have something that they could hold up and market,” Stepp said.
“[The production of extras] was not uncommon. If there was a big story, … they would print what was called an extra,” he said. Often, it might only be a new front page, as is primarily the case with the pages on view, Stepp said
The exhibit presents seven extra editions all published within 18 hours, a quantity Stepp said he had never heard of. Jim Auerbach, a visitor from Silver Spring, Md., said he “didn’t know a paper could publish seven editions in a day.”
The 2 a.m. edition reported President Lincoln had been shot. Washington’s AP bureau chief Lawrence Gobright fired off a 13-word telegram to New York with the news, according to the exhibit.
By 3 a.m., the Herald officially identified John Wilkes Booth as a suspect for the first time. By 8:45 a.m., President Lincoln was dead, and at 10 a.m., the paper reported the wider conspiracy involving Secretary of State William Seward. They printed one column of text bordered by dark black lines, a symbol of mourning.
Again at 10 a.m., in a near-immediate extra, the Herald revealed the reward for Booth’s capture – an enormous $10,000 that would eventually be raised tenfold. In this extra, black bars flanked every column.
At 2 p.m., the sixth extra in 12 hours, the Herald wrote that Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s vice president, had reportedly taken the oath of office. In haste, they printed the wrong date (April 14, the day prior) on top of the page.
Finally, at 3:30 p.m., the last extra arrived, misreporting that Booth had been arrested. In fact, a Union soldier killed him 11 days later, according to the exhibit. Auerbach’s wife, Margery, compared this to the incorrect reports that often result in breaking news coverage today.
“Sometimes, you’re getting misinformation today, and there was even misinformation then!” she said. She was quick, however, to blame it on the writers and not the medium.
“It’s the responsibility of journalists not to go publish something that isn’t verifiable,” she said. “The technology has changed, but the issue is really the same.”
One marvel of the exhibition is the enduring quality of the pages. Because they were printed on rag paper (as opposed to pulp paper), they have not yellowed and do not give their age away in the slightest.
James Gordon Bennett, editor of The New York Herald at the time, had experience sticking to deadline.
During his tenure, Bennett developed as system of sending small boats out of harbor to meet arriving ocean liners in order to scoop all other papers on news coming out of Europe.
“In broad terms, [Bennett] figured out before almost anyone else that the public was really interested in breaking news and … that aggressive news coverage increased your circulation,” Stepp said. Bennett “just was a genius at that,” he said.
Eventually, extras fell out of favor.
First, they were usurped by afternoon papers, and, while the deadlines were still the same, the need to issue a new edition diminished. Stepp spoke briefly about his time working on an afternoon paper in the 1970s, when perpetual deadlines still served as the driving force.
Stepp’s job was to attend morning news events and call in a “rewriter,” who took his facts and helped form a story in time for the noon deadline.
Later, television bulletins took over. Eventually, an alternative news animal arrived on the scene, brought about by another national tragedy.
“The wall-to-wall [idea of interrupting] the entertainment to bring continuous live coverage of an event started, or at least became institutionalized, during the Kennedy assassination,” Stepp said.
Now, that type of coverage is commonplace on cable news and constant online.
“There’s a constant pressure to break news,” Auerbach said. “I think we’ve gone overboard today,” his wife added.
The only remaining source for extras seems to be tragedy. Stepp recounted the last time he remembered seeing one – in 1996 following the bombings at the Olympic Park in Atlanta, where Stepp and his son were visiting.
Evidence of extras’ tragic connotation is present at the Newseum as well. Exiting exhibition visitors can see a wall of extras across the atrium – those reporting on the September 11 attacks.
Newseum adult admission costs $22.95 plus tax, and the exhibition is open until Jan. 10, 2016.
Evan Berkowitz is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.