In the real world, as a matter of record, there isn't much dancing in the streets. Setting aside sanctioned festivals, it's mostly just a figure of speech, especially when used predictively (see "Iraq, invasion of").
Election Day, November 4, 2008, was different.
That night, Baltimore Avenue in Philadelphia was clogged with a jubilant mob boogying with abandon, banging pots and pans in time with horn blasts from engulfed cars. In Kisumu, thousands of Kenyans shimmied in the streets, singing, kissing, thumping on drums in such an unalloyed outpouring of euphoria that the government was moved to declare a national holiday. In Seattle, a club turned its speakers into the street, blasting a beat for the enormous dance party that rocked downtown. In Jakarta, schoolchildren hugged and danced in the pouring rain. In New Haven, hundreds of Yale students, mad with joy, spontaneously poured from their rooms and converged on a campus green, where they formed an enormous circle of celebration. And in Manhattan, Broadway was quickly cordoned off as thousands of New Yorkers streamed south toward the lights, dancing, shouting, overcome by a big, bold blast of history, the kind that filled up Times Square on V-J Day.
And then the next day, after the street parties were over, people went out and did something many of them hadn't done in years: They bought newspapers.
By the trainload, actually. The Washington Post printed up 30,000 extra copies; they sold out instantly. So they ordered another 150,000 copies, then raised it to 250,000, then eventually 700,000—offered at triple the usual cover price. In Los Angeles, the Times printed up an extra 107,000, but they were gone in an instant. Outside their downtown offices, a line of customers formed around the block. Two days later, it was still there. Meanwhile, The New York Times put an extra 250,000 papers on the street, but individual copies still popped up on eBay for $200 apiece. And at last count, USA Today had printed 380,000 additional copies, with online sales still brisk.
All those folks scrambling for copies weren't just interested in election returns, obviously. They could, after all, get the details from TV or the Internet, and probably already had—maybe even from their local newspaper's Web site. But what they couldn't get was the crisp, tactile, iconic artifact that is a daily newspaper— that tangible proof that something big had really happened. The morning-after newspaper, with the huge headlines reserved for historic events, continues to be seen as the indispensable keepsake—one that can forever evoke and refresh a deeply consequential memory.
To our industry, it was a glorious day and no doubt will be recalled fondly. It seems doubtful, with newspapers inexorably losing their place in public life, that we will see many more like it. But on November 5, 2008, for one day, we became a nation of newspaper consumers again. Across the country, editors were breaking out the 72-point type, and the public couldn’t get enough of it.
This collection of front pages evolved from that continuing excitement, and part of its great appeal is that it allows readers to vicariously experience the same ringing event from many vantage points. Each newspaper had its own particular cultural or geographic perspective, so while the basic lead ("Obama wins!") was the same everywhere, there was considerable variation in the framing. For Hawaiian readers, for instance, it was a hometown-boy-makes-good story. For Atlanta, with its civil rights legacy, the story is the ultimate triumph of social justice. In The Arizona Republic, John McCain's home newspaper, the smiling winner shares the front page with a gracious loser.
To look at these disparate front pages in sequence is to grasp the enormity of Barack Obama's dream of bringing a fractious country together. But the overriding tone of elation and pride suggests he's off to a pretty good start.
Did I mention there was dancing in the streets?
A New Era: Excerpts from President Obama Election 2008