Michigan Daily JFK Memories: ‘How a College Newspaper Covered the Kennedy Assassination’

Almost exactly 50 years ago, student staffers at The Michigan Daily released a special edition in and around the University of Michigan campus confirming the sudden death of president John F. Kennedy. A reporting and editing team put together, proofed, printed, reprinted (due to a mistake in the initial run) and then hand-delivered the one-sheet extra only hours after JFK’s assassination.

In a write-up that includes interviews with some of the Daily team responsible for the issue five decades ago, Anna Clark details how the mostly pro-Kennedy editorial crew gathered by sheer instinct in a strangely silent newsroom — amid a larger “campus atmosphere … of ‘stunned disbelief. Not just disbelief, but almost a refusal to believe.'”

JFK

Three interesting details from Clark’s report:

1) The Daily charged seven cents per copy for its regular issues at the time, but distributed the special edition for free.

2) The main headline caused problems, mostly due to its enormity. As a news reporter at the time tells Clark, “[O]ne of the things that was hard to do was to find type size big enough [for the header], and make words that would fit. We had to figure out how to do it.” In the end, the simple pronouncement “JFK Killed” won out.

3) A lesson to take away from the Daily’s overall success with the JFK Assassination edition: Be careful about in-house ads. According to Clark, “Underneath the news story of Kennedy’s death and Lyndon B. Johnson’s ascension to office [continued on the back page], there was a large box urging readers to ‘Buy the 1964 Michiganensian’ [university yearbook], and below that, an even larger box promoting the Daily’s subscription model. (‘Subscriptions now $6.00, delivered.’) Some readers found these ads in poor taste for a paper specially made to issue same-day news on the assassination. In a letter published a few days later, community member Fred Katz wrote, ‘These ads took up almost. eight-tenths of the page. The inclusion of these or any other ads in this special extra edition strikes me as being in the poorest possible taste.'”

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