Tipsy ‘Post’ rants about Dems in far-off legislatures; ‘News’ shrugs, ponders 'Melo

Today's tabloids, Feb. 23, 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?

The New York Post: It's not that The New York Post doesn't realize how big a story Carmelo Anthony's opening night with the Knicks tonight is. There he is, along the left margin, in civilian clothes looking very glamorous in shades and expensive clothes, all suited up for Page Six boldface and private tête-à-têtes with Anna Wintour.

"'Melo mania in NY!" reads the hed; a red box with knockout type tells you to "SEE SPORTS." And there you'll find a cover that was probably a contender at some point for the main wood. After all, it's got a general-interest take instead of a sports one—Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire in Knicks jerseys (photomontaging?) over a Broadway-style marquee that reads "Broadway's Newest Smash Hit: MELO & 'MAR'E." (Wondering why "MELO" didn't get the apostrophe it deserves. Surely not because that's too many apostrophes: They gave two to Stoudemire. Anyway.) No, it looks like if that was a consideration it didn't last long, before the Post gave in to the temptation to talk to us about what their sister cable television network is treating as though it were a typhoon that ate the East Coast: the legislative walkouts in Indiana, on the heels of similar in Wisconsin, over legislation to remove many collective bargaining rights from municipal unions.

It's a trick move to beckon any readers who yawn at the prospect of such a story: A milk carton covered in New York Post branding that reads, "HAVE YOU SEEN US?" Beneath the graphic of the red, white and blue donkey the "missing" is identified as "THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY." "PAIN IN THE ASS" is the headline, and it's kind of mushy: Who's a pain, the Democrats for leaving? In that case aren't they being pains in the pachyderm? Or is it that the Democrats are fleeing because the Republicans pushing these measures through the legislatures they now dominate are being pains? Either way the headline is a bit bathetic. And the death knell: "Now Dems disappear in Indiana." Is it too much to suspect that readers don't come to The New York Post for their deep reporting bench in the Indiana legislature? 

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Daily News: Of course you can take 'Melo fever too far. One thing you know about News cover decisions is that when they decide to inset their flag (the name of the newspaper at the top of the page) in the main cover photo, it means BIG, LUSH, PHOTO-DRIVEN SPREADS INSIDE. That's what happens today, over a picture of Carmelo Anthony holding aloft a championship ring. He's in Denver blues, but they're practice clothes; the Adidas logo is more visible than any Nuggetry. (This is always a problem: The first photos of Anthony in Knicks jerseys will remove him in Denver Nuggets jerseys from the front pages of the tabloids forevermore.) "CAN HE BRING A RING?" reads the question-mark headline.

There's nothing wrong with these—but as a rule, they suggest that you're not saying anything, and have less force than a statement would, especially one with a nice, short, active verb. Oh well. The dek reads: "We've got that Melo feeling!" (Again no apostrophe?) It's too bad, too. This cover does not have a mellow feeling—or, it shouldn't. This somewhat melodramatic (sorry!) photo looks like it's surrounded by apologies. Here's where the News could take a lesson from Post headline kabuki: If you mean to be dead serious and pious and strong on the cover, draw the expressions out to twice the size.

The Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme gets a snipe across the lower right of a sports cover and advertises a two-page spread in the sports section, despite the fact that the latest revelations have little to do with the Wilpons, whose enfolding in the drama of the Madoff scheme has them trying to sell a chunk of the Mets to the highest bidder (who is willing to give them money without having any say over how the team is run).

Observations: When a great story is developing elsewhere in the country (or the world), like the revolutions in Egypt, Bahrain and Libya, or Hurricane Katrina, or a national election, the limits of the localness of a local paper become apparent. But the proposition of being local also requires you to speak to what your audience cares most about. And however true it is that what happens locally has more direct impact on your readers' lives, that's not the central premise of a local publication; it's a subsidiary one. These same readers are also citizens of the U.S. and part of the human race. In a presidential election year it's fitting for Barack Obama, say, to take the cover, and for there to be lots of inside coverage on state and local elections. It's a strain, when everyone's sitting at home watching cable news about Katrina, to put a story on the cover about a knife fight in Crown Heights. If local tabloids are like a kitchen conversation at a raucous family party, the point is to be the big talker, the center of attention. To obsess over Hiram Monserrate when everyone wants you to shut up and answer their questions about Sarah Palin is just churlish. So big stories happening far from home have to break across the New York tabloids every now and then.

Today's Post is a different matter. Everyone's talking about Carmelo Anthony, and the Post, like an Uncle Glenn who's had too many cans of Bud, is shouting about Democrats in the Midwest. Time for a tactful appeal to his wife to talk about taking him home.

It's too bad, because the guy squawking about Carmelo Anthony isn't as funny as Uncle Glenn on a good tear. Of course what's happening in Wisconsin and Indiana is fascinating, and important. It's just not quite there yet, unless you obsess about Democrats and unions (from either side of the fence). This needs to blow up a little more before it warrants a full-page takeover. Otherwise it just feels like agenda-pushing.

It's almost as if the Post knows all this. That's why the cover is supposed to be a memorable photomontage that will make up for the churlishness. It was kind of an overreach to blast the U.N. Security Council a few years ago too—but it produced one of the most memorable Post covers in the last decade. This milk-carton photomontage is not one of them.

Winner: Daily News.