A jumper and a pile of garbage: How could the ‘News’ miss?

Today's tabloids, Jan. 3, 2011. ()
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Each day, the New York tabloids vie to sell readers at the newsstands on outrageous headlines, dramatic photography, and, occasionally, great reporting. Who is today's winner?

Observations: Welcome back! I'm switching things up slightly for this first weekday of the New Year.

Today is a textbook day for the tabloids, illustrating what happens when they run the same stories on the front page and only distinguish themselves (or not) by their headlines. Both front the story of Vangelis Kapatos, whose attempted suicide yesterday afternoon was thwarted by garbage bags still not picked up by the Sanitation Department after the blizzard; and the Giants' ouster from the playoffs—they won their game but lost their spot to the Packers, who also won theirs. Let's start with the suicide attempt! A preliminary note: He's identified as Vangelis "Angelo" Icapatos in the Post, and Vangelis "Angelo" Kapatos in the News. Without thinking too hard we're going with the News for now. What does that say about us?

'TRASH LANDING' vs. 'TRASH LANDING!' The exclamation point at the end is the only difference between the News' main hed this morning and the Post's. It was a gimme, of course—how could either have done otherwise? And the paper that chose something different just guessing the other guy would go with Trash Landing would inevitably have come up short. Perhaps the exclamation mark is meant to make up for the fact that the Post has what it advertises in a red snipe across the upper left-hand corner as a "PHOTO EXCLUSIVE," a shot taken from above, through tree branches, of E.M.T.s hovering around and over a man strapped to a gurney next to piles of trash. His face is not visible but socks, pajama bottoms and a backbrace are. This means the headline had to be fitted across an uncropped bottom of the photo in knockout type. It's probably worth it.

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While the postage-stamp-sized photo of trashbags set in the text of the News headline is labeled as being the one that broke the jumper's fall, it could be anywhere given how small it is and how little relevant action is shown. The deks are standard-issue: the Post says "Death leap thwarted by garbage" and the News goes with the slightly more Latinate and less dramatic "Jumper hits uncollected garbage, survives."

Once both papers decided to go big on the front page with this story, it was going to be necessary to canvass the building, find the jumper's workplace and family, and do lots of interviews. Here's where it gets interesting. The News talked to several neighbors about the suicide attempt, reached Kapatos' relatives, and was able to tell the story of how he'd grown up in the West 45th Street apartment, for which rent was just a bit over $500 a month; he was 26 and apparently depressive anyway, but his mother moved back to Greece and his father was recently moved to a nursing home, leaving him alone in the apartment. The landlord was starting proceedings to evict him from the apartment, and a breakdown in Housing Court apparently began this downward spiral. For color on the incident, the News has this:

Joe Kantor, 55, said he looked out his apartment window after hearing police-car sirens. He was stunned to see Kapatos lying amid the trash.

"He wasn't moving at all. I didn't think he was alive," Kantor recalled. "He was bleeding from the side."

The Post barely has a quarter of the reporting the News printed—but they had this photo! Now look closely at the photo credit on the front page of the Post: "Joseph Kantor." Of course I'd only be guessing if I said the two papers bid for the photo from the poor jumper's neighbor; either way, Kantor's photo was worth a thousand of his words when it comes to getting him to help sell the story on Page 1.

"Giants sent Packin'" vs. "BLUE HOO": If all this stuff about the jumper throws water on the News' traditional tagline, "New York's Picture Newspaper," it's not that they don't know the value of a photo; they've got one in the blue strip across the bottom of the page advertising their coverage of the New York Giants' disqualification from the playoffs. A row of benched defensive players from the team looks with no particular expression of grief at the camera—after all, they'd won the game; for them to earn their position in the playoffs it was up to the Packers to lose. Whereas the Post just does that thing where they stick a Giants helmet in the strip advertising the story. The News wins this one cold. But the Giants story is not the main event, the jumper is.

Winner: The New York Post.