9:18 am Apr. 4, 2011
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: Today's front page is like a lesson in the strange mechanics of buzz.
Pretty much the whole page is given to Charlie Sheen. The story is about his "tour": a stage routine involving two of his live-in girlfriends in which a "questioner" gets improvised answers from the actor, and which is called "My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option."
We've been reading about this at least since Saturday, because the show bombed so badly in Detroit. The ostensible peg for today's story is the forward-looking local one: Sheen has booked two shows in New York for later this week, and though much of the tour was pronounced "sold out," the, er, torpedoing he took in Detroit appears to have revealed most of the buyers as scalpers, and the bottom is falling out on the Sheen ticket market. The tickets have a face value of $126. Some scalpers were asking for as much as $575 before Saturday, but now the prices range from $34 to $39, and there are loads available, so it could plummet further still.
If the Sheen bubble has indeed burst, isn't it strange to give him the whole front page? Even if you have a scandalous picture of him on stage in Detroit flapping manically as former porn star Rachel Oberlin and model Natalie Kenly make out for one of the show's few crowd-pleasing moments? Or is the story of Sheen becoming uninteresting to people itself interesting to enough people to sell a 50-cent paper, if not a $34 ticket?
The giant knockout-white one-word hed with black outline and drop shadow is "LOSING!" Because, see, he's no longer "winning."
The dek: "Goddess kiss can't save Charlie show; tix tank." Pretty much the whole story is told, minus a few small details and a quote from a spokesperson from StubHub and some man-on-the-street reviews from his quite successful night in Chicago (which also kind of puts a dent in the storyline): "Charlie Sheen is being sunk by his 'Torpedo of Truth.' He was booed off the stage in Detroit, despite this sexy smooch by his 'goddesses'—and scalpers are going broke trying to move tix for his upcoming Radio City gig."
The Post does give us one more story, in a blue bar across the bottom: "SURGING KNICKS CLINCH PLAYOFF SPOT." See sports.
Daily News: Already, Twitter self-selects for a certain kind of audience, and I'm not sure where the overlap is between that audience and the one the tabloids are fighting for. But it was interesting to me to note that the only top trending topic in New York on Twitter this morning that also made the covers of the tabloids was the A.P. report that Katie Couric is leaving the CBS Evening News. It's actually represented twice: Both Katie Couric and CBS Evening News are in the top ten trending topics for New York City.
But it's just a little box at the bottom of the page. (We used to call them "footlights" at one place I worked but I don't think that's the real term. What's a "skybox" that's at the bottom of the page called?) "IT'S ANCHORS AWAY FOR KATIE" reads the knockout text in a bright blue box; "REPORT: COURIC WILL BOLT CBS 'NEWS' DESK." It's two thirds of the width of the page, the last third being given over to an orange box that reads "KNICKS BACK IN PLAYOFFS."
The colors are unfortunate—but they are the colors of the Huskies, the University of Connecticut's basketball team, which made the NCAA college basketball finals this weekend. Sometimes the paper seems to choose a color scheme that won't add too many new tones to the ones in the main story, but that doesn't seem to be the case here, even though a giant portrait of Kemba Walker in his Huskies jersey is the main event. The colors are washed out on the jersey, which is mostly white anyway, and the little red box that serves as the reefer to the inside page containing the stories about the Bronx-native UConn star is actually … red. Add to that the skybox advertising some cash-prize business being run by the News and you get a pretty disorganized theme for the page. The disorganization continues in the main story space.
"BRONX SON ALSO RISES" reads the main hed in big black text, right-aligned with the raggedness of the word "SON" taken care of with the interposition of that red reefer box ("STORY, LUPICA PAGES 4-5"). The dek is pushed up on top of Walker's head, to the left of the main hed: "Kemba leads Huskies in tonight's title bid." It's a—sort-of nice?—picture of Walker; he's smiling, but his smile isn't quite appealing somehow, and it has the adverse effect of leaving his eyes squinted. Mirrors of the soul and all that: A smile with eyes would've been better, but if it were a choice, I'd take the eyes and a more serious, stentorian expression to go with this hed.
On the substance: Lupica's on one of his usual outings, getting a little literary but not too literary in his depiction of Walker. As is so often the case, the whole thing reads like a wind-up, but the toy never actually seems to go. When Walker was at Rice High School in the Bronx, "a story that is as much about basketball as it is about the grand possibilities of our city first began to take shape. And flight."
OK, so let's hear it! "'Maybe it's a story that people from the outside wouldn't think could happen in the city,' LaFleur was saying now." OK—so let's hear it! "'Kemba Walker is an inner-city fairy tale.'" Aggghhh! We get some biographical details—not very fleshed-out: He was a beneficiary of "a program called Student Sponsor Partners, which matches patrons with the parents of worthy students," which is how he ended up at Rice High. His father is a construction worker from Antigua. His mother thought he'd grow up to be a dancer. His brother Akil has been in and out of prison. He waits his turn as a player, letting the older players have their moments. "There is something about this kid." WHAT, PLEASE? And the final line: "It is a basketball story, of course, but so much more, a story about the city and character and family and talent and dreams. The kid from the Bronx doesn't just try to carry his team to the top of the hill tonight. For a couple of hours, he carries us all."
Well, it's a sweet story pitch, but it's not a story, yet.
Observations: Of course that's all digression. You're the sucker if you've put down your 50 cents to read Lupica this morning, but at least you've already put down your 50 cents. Or have you? I am having a hard time figuring out this morning whether the downward-trending Sheen story or the profile of Kemba Walker will move more papers.
I have a feeling the cynic in me is the righter part here, though. Two blond girls kissing was the only thing that worked for Sheen in Detroit, so why not try it out on New Yorkers for their morning commute? And if pseudolesbian action staged by a drug-addled megalomaniac isn't your thing, there's the other side of all this: Sheenenfreude, self-contradictory as it may be—we'd all love to say we refuse to watch but are we not still watching?—involves a Hollywood celebrity, and one whose masculinity makes him a crossover to male readers. There's no analogous wide swath of available readers, I don't think, for a college-basketball-star profile. And that profile is lower to begin with. Sorry Kemba: I'd love to hear your story, someday.
Winner: The New York Post.