Bloomberg, Palin, Morris: Maybe too much to choose from?

Today's tabloids, Feb. 18, 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?

Daily News: Yesterday's budget address by Michael Bloomberg was sure to catch some attention today. There are some big, impressive numbers in here! The city budget of $65.6 billion depends on more than 4,000 teacher layoffs, which is the most controversial part of the budget, and then of course firehouse closings and pension adjustments to city agencies. The News gives a strip a little less than half the width of the page along the right side to the story, indulging its practice of using red for it despite the fact that knockout type stands out more starkly against black. Maybe that's because the theme of the copy suggests the color: "PAIN IN THE AX" reads the main hed, with a stern headshot of Bloomberg inset; "Bloomy sees red, whacks billions from city budget" is the dek, which advertises a two-page spread of coverage.

It was one of several important political happenings yesterday, and the News highlights another—Sarah Palin's visit to Long Island—in a blue strip along the bottom of the page. "PALIN BREAST-FEED JAB AT FIRST LADY FALLS FLAT" in the paper's judgment. Inside: "It's no wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody you need to breast feed your babies," Palin said. "[The] price of milk is so high!" But as the paper points out, babies don't drink cow's milk anyway: It's breast-milk or baby formula. Anyway! They get to mention Sarah Palin on the cover, which is something!

Palin and Michelle Obama would have been enough "face" for the wood, but it would be giving the story too much traction. Better to stick a model up on the cover, on the thin premise of "FASHION'S BIG FINALE," i.e., the end of New York Fashion Week. The model is not particularly provocative looking, just a little couturish: Lots of skinny backflesh exposed as we look at her from behind, but she's cut off at the small of her back and looking back at us through a kind of crazy hood-like cowl thing that looks like something from the "fashion show" scene in the movie The Women (and I mean the 1939 original).

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The New York Post: The Post makes a rare headline metajoke on its front today: "Dog bites man" reads yellow text in a blue gradient box, next to a picture of a small, yippy looking pooch. "Meet the culprits." It's going to be about frequency of reports of biting by dogs, by breed, and unsurprisingly after we've gotten through pit bulls and Rottweilers, the rest tend to be little things that get trucked around to Bloomingdale's and apparently develop an aversion to strangers there. I sympathize.

But politics are the main course, again—and neither Palin nor Bloomberg but a third big-ticket item, the denial of a request from former Hevesi aide and local political muckety muck Hank Morris to put off serving his sentence for a year, and then a week. The judge was pretty harsh: "It's time to go!" the judge said, as Morris' family sat in the gallery, weeping. There's a face pic of Morris looking suitably mortified, but the larger picture borrows a regular "Law & Order" visual trope with a shot of him being led away by a bailiff. How the mighty have fallen!

But the main selling point is the headline: "HANK CUFF!" it reads; "No mercy as ex-state big gets jail in pension scam.

Observations: I'm not sure either paper got the mix quite right today. The day was full of gimmes in news, and all three were hit by the two papers together. Is there something wrong with three news stories on the front page? And if sex or celebrity or "lifestyles" had to be on the menu, was this model and this dog study the best stuff out there? Ann Pettway, the "baby stealer" of recent tabloid fame, was indicted yesterday. Victoria Beckham had some words about motherhood from fashion week that made the inside of the paper, and that might have gotten more eyeballs than this random couture model. This weekend both the Knicks and the Nets are going after Carmelo Anthony; it's an example of the kind of sports story that can legitimately crawl across the spine of the paper onto the front. At least the "dog bites man" story is worth a chuckle—if a very small one. On the news, the budget talk by the mayor is inherently less dramatic and compelling than the jailing of Hank Morris—but Morris is also not a marquee tabloid character the way Bloomberg is. On the other hand, it's the oldest story in the world (next to "dog bites man"), and most readers probably expect to read about it in the papers already without needing it to come from one paper or the other.

It's close, and again the News might have done it. But the chops-licking Hank Morris piece (with the much better headline) comes out on top.

Winner: The New York Post.