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history repeating

Remembering Newspaper Row

Newspaper Row, 1927.

Newspaper Row, 1927.

To see the before and after graphic of Newspaper Row, click here.

Extra! Extra! It was quite a week for newspapers. In the span of less than 72 hours, The Boston Globe, which first published on March 4, 1872, and The Washington Post, which first appeared on Dec. 6, 1877, were sold to a pair of billionaire businessmen. The deals are still pending, but the total reported cost of the two institutions: $320 million.

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To say that it’s a new era for newspapers is akin to saying “Whitey” Bulger was a big meanie. But the early days of the Globe, when its first edition sold on the streets for 4 cents, and the Post, which was a relative steal at 3 cents, feel like ancient history because they are.

Back then, as this wonderful photograph (left) of Boston’s famed Newspaper Row shows, if you wanted the breaking news first, you got yourself to Washington Street. And when presidential elections came, or the World Series, or devastating blizzards, crowds filled the streets. Bulletins were posted (on Nov. 22, 1963, a handwritten “President Is Dead” note appeared in the Globe’s window) and live broadcasts could be heard through speakers. At some point in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, the Globe, Boston Herald, Boston Evening Transcript, Boston Traveller, Boston Post, Boston Journal, and even the Associated Press all lived between the Old State House and Milk Street.

In an interview in 2001 with the Globe, onetime managing editor Thomas Mulvoy Jr. said: “Presses ran mornings, afternoons, evenings, and overnight, and so did the newspapers’ horse-drawn wagons, later to be succeeded by bulky trucks. With the arrival of motorized delivery, the city’s center of bustle was soon suffocating in traffic.”

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As technology evolved, however, Newspaper Row dissolved. Radio and eventually television became the fastest, reliable sources of breaking news, and, of course, today the Internet is where breaking news breaks and where newspapers themselves post their scoops first.

Nobody could have imagined that in the early days of Internet growth, and with most newspapers still highly profitable businesses, a revolution was underway when a new book-selling website sold its first book (“Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought,” by Douglas Hofstadter). Soon enough Amazon.com was a World Wide Web behemoth, its founder Jeff Bezos was worth more than $20 billion, and he decided in 2013 that spending $250 million of his fortune on The Washington Post was a worthwhile investment.

His decision came only two days after it was announced that John Henry, the Boston businessman, investor, and owner of the Red Sox, had his $70 million bid to buy the Globe accepted by The New York Times Co. And just like that, the memories of Newspaper Row slipped a little further into the history books.

Doug Most can be reached at dmost@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Globedougmost
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