When 17 days of no newspaper shocked New York


See thousands lining up to buy papers, radio valiantly trying to fill the gap, and New York’s mayor reading comic strips over the air.
Available from the Prelinger collection of “ephemeral film” at archive.org, “Seventeen Days” is a New York Daily News color documentary about a New York City newspaper delivery drivers’ strike in 1945, especially interesting to media historians because the strike showed how strongly readers’ valued their favorite newspapers.

The clip above gives the film credits and delivery-drivers strike background, and starts to show striking images of endless lines of would-be readers flocking to newspaper offices for over-the-counter sales. And people today think the Internet is addictive! Not only was it the final summer of World War II, it was an era when, as the narrator says,

“Part of this normal life was newspapers, taken as a matter of course by everyone, so regular and complete a part of normal everyday living that finding newspapers on the newsstands, buying them morning and night, was taken pretty much for granted.”

In 1945, the narrator points out, New York City still had eight major daily newspapers, and there were 14,000 newsstands on the city’s streets to sell them. He notes that the 17-day strike was “the time of all times for radio,” but adds that even with expanded newscasts, radio wasn’t enough for the news-hungry audience. The first clip finishes with statistics about direct sales to readers who came to the Herald Tribune printing plant to get the paper.

In the second clip, switchboard operators at The Herald Tribune take calls from information-starved readers, while customers line up at The Journal American and the Mirror, in the marble foyer of The Sun and for blocks along shadowy side-streets by the World-Telegram. The New York Times and Daily News even drew big crowds after dark for the morning papers’ early editions, which wasn’t as great for the color film documentarians.

The final segment includes one of the best-known anecdotes about the strike: Even New York’s Mayor LaGuardia tried to ease newspaper readers’ suffering — by reading the Sunday funnies to them on the radio.

You can download the full film in various resolutions at archive.org, but I’m unable to “embed” the site’s player here because of my site host’s software limitations. Fortunately, “UnknownWW2InColor,” by Romano-Archives, a historical archive based in Milan, Italy, has divided the “Seventeen Days” film into three five-and-a-half-minute parts and uploaded them to YouTube, which WordPress does allow me to put on this page.


Related readings:
Bernard Berelson — What Missing the Newspaper Means (1949)

Clyde Bentley, “No Newspaper Is No Fun—Even Five Decades Later,” Newspaper Research Journal 22, no. 4 (fall 2001): 2-15.

More on newspapers in popular culture:

Classic films about journalists, many now available online for free.

Classic radio dramas about fictional and real-life reporters, from Clark Kent and Lois Lane to Nellie Bly, H.L. Mencken and Walter Winchell: http://jheroes.com

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