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Column: After years of holiday dinners, Black Friday arrived

By Ray Crippen

WORTHINGTON — This column is brought to you from the Worthington Daily Globe’s world headquarters…

That tickles me. It is a version of a joke showing up lately in columns (Aaron Hagen, James Lilaks). It spoofs the NBC Nightly News lead-in, “Brought to you from the NBC world headquarters …”

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The coverage of President Kennedy’s assassination last weekend stirred other memories of news reporting in that era. It was September 1963 when the U.S. television networks expanded their evening news broadcasts from 15 minutes to 30 minutes. We took some kidding on that: “By the time Walter Cronkite finishes reading 30 minutes of news, there will be nothing left for you to report.”

As it turns out, about 18 minutes of the 30 minutes of evening TV news is commercials — the commercial segment is longer than the 15 minutes that were added. Last Friday, the networks were pretty much alternating between people telling where they were when President Kennedy was shot and people telling what it is like to have shingles.

It would be fun to research TV’s,“Black Friday Phenomenon.” As I recall, Black Friday originated with a TV reporter assigned to develop a Thanksgiving eve story. I can identify with this — you can, too. You are working for a newspaper and your editor says, “Get some kind of Thanksgiving story for Thanksgiving eve,” or, “Get a Christmas story for Christmas eve,” or, “Get some local story for Martin Luther King’s birthday.” Editors do this kind of thing. Reporters squirm and scratch like someone with shingles. What to write?

Thanksgiving is an especially tough time for local news reporters because there is almost no story to tell. Many families eat turkeys. There will be some church services and football games. Somebody, somewhere will serve meals to the homeless.

I remember one Thanksgiving the Daily Globe reworked the old story of President Lincoln proclaiming a national day of fasting. Lincoln believed the people of the Union should spend a day at prayer and repentance, without food. Almost no one paid attention to the president. It was after this that Lincoln decided perhaps America needed a day of thanksgiving where every family would come together to eat and to give thanks. This rang America’s bell. Maybe more potatoes and gravy than potatoes and thanks. After 15 decades Americans still are coming together to eat — with relish.

All of us — at least all of us above 10 years of age — remember a time when there was no Black Friday. Friday was only the day after Thanksgiving. It is thought the TV reporter told to “get a Thanksgiving story” had a friend in a retail business or a pal at a financial institution who chortled at lunch one noon, “Well, Thursday is Thanksgiving and Friday is black Friday. The reporter wondered, “What do you mean, black Friday?” The friend said, “That’s an old saw—– a store owner says his books have been in the red but after Thanksgiving, with Christmas shopping starting, the books will be in the black. We hope. Black Friday.”

All of us watched this unfold. The first couple of years it was just another tale to help fill newscasts on the eve of Thanksgiving days. Then some of the big retail chains began to pick up on it. They began running Black Friday ads. The public was not exactly pushing through store doors. Some of the people who had Friday off from work — temps, office workers, teachers — began Christmas shopping as they always had. Then retailers, still working the Black Friday angle, began offering serious lures: 25 wide-screen TVs only $25, or 100 PCs only $100 for the first 100 customers.

People did indeed begin to push through doors. Two years ago we witnessed as the “opening time war” began — stores open at 11 p.m. Thanksgiving day, or midnight, or 1 a.m. This year the story became retailers opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day itself, or 7 p.m., or 8 p.m.

That old Black Friday tale may at last be coming to an end — thank Walmart, maybe. Walmart has been shaping “Black Friday specials” for the whole week ahead of Thanksgiving. The reporter’s Black Friday story is near to “30.”

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.