Many people that post or lurk here at JWN are too young to remember some of the huge international conventions JWs held many years ago, but probably have seen impressive photos such as of the 1958 eight-day convention held simultaneously at New York’s Yankee Stadium and Polo Grounds. Especially remarkable was the tremendous newspaper coverage of that assembly and other special conventions held in the 1940s and 50s in the United States.
Yesterday, when I downloaded somebody’s old scrapbook full of long-ago newspaper articles, http://www.archive.org/details/WatchtowerNewsScrapBook , reporting on Jehovah’s Witnesses so-called “International Conventions,” I couldn’t help but remember what I wrote regarding extraordinary newspaper convention coverage in my www.freeminds.org article, How Jehovah’s Witnesses Watchtower Religion Impacted My Family History, Part 3 and thought I’d share the information here on JWN for those who are not familiar with how such “wonderful” coverage came about.
Back in those years when Watch Tower’s Public Relations Department Overseer notified local big city newspapers about an up-coming super-special Witness convention such as the ones in NYC in 1955 and 1958, he knew from experience that the newspapers would treat the Witness convention news in a special “money-making” way, but those who attended the convention didn’t know about the special treatment. Yet, with the full knowledge that the news coverage was “fake,” Watch Tower speakers capitalized on what the newspaper publishers did by pointing to the “extraordinary” newspaper coverage telling us this was a huge witness to the locals. Of course, we were thrilled, and to our ingenuous (sincere) minds this information was proof of our “distinctiveness” and caused us to enthusiastically clap and clap out of the bliss of recognition that made our religious commitment even more certain. Read on:
When my mom and I attended our first Yankee Stadium convention in 1955, we couldn’t help but notice all the newspaper vendors on the sidewalks around the stadium hawking “Special Editions” of NYC papers that featured front-page articles about the convention with accompanying photos. Many articles were so lengthy that they continued on to the next page.
I was delighted to see the broad coverage of the convention thinking that maybe our non-Witness New York relatives would be reading about the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in their daily paper. I hoped it would help them overcome their opposition to our new religion. They were quite irate, blaming me for splitting up the family, accusing me of influencing my mother to give up Catholicism and embrace a religion that didn’t allow members to celebrate the holidays, days that had been very important to our family.
Of course, my mother bought a copy of each of the newspapers as did thousands of other people who attended. Few of us realized what a “Special Edition” was. The situation was similar during the 1958 International Assembly of JWs held both at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds.
Over thirty-five years later, when I was a staff member of the Watch Tower Writing Department, I learned Special Edition newspapers were only sold around the convention site. They had a different front and second page than the regularly published NYC daily newspapers. Obviously, the publishing companies made a lot of extra income selling Special Editions to Jehovah’s Witness convention attendees who were, for the most part, the only people reading about their own convention in such detail. So much for a witness to New Yorkers!
I came across an exceptionally complimentary article from one of those old Special Edition convention newspapers which had been stored in a file in the Writing Department. The quote that I was interested in could have been useful to Karl Adams to incorporate into one of the chapters of the Proclaimers book. Then I learned from one of the Writing staff that the statement probably originated from some copy that the Watch Tower “Public Relations” Department provided to newspaper reporters. In light of the fact that I believed it wasn’t ethical to be quoting our own statements and attributing it to a “worldly” newspaper to make a point, I didn’t give it to Karl.
Funny how learning that those Special Edition newspapers were not bona fide daily newspapers affected me—the disappointment I felt when I learned the truth of the matter. This might not sound like a big deal, but back in the 1950s, the seemingly massive coverage of the Witnesses Yankee Stadium conventions in the newspapers I grew up with was an important psychological shot in the arm for me, and also for my mother. We, as well as thousands of others attending the Watch Tower conventions, were not very sophisticated people so the extensive journalistic hype about the Witnesses last-day movement definitely and foolishly cemented our conviction that we were onto something really significant!