10:07 am Apr. 26, 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: The first thing to note about today's New York Post is that they're continuing to front their four-part series on the city schools system's strained efforts to weed out bad teachers. And while yesterday the paper sold the story ("CROOKS & BOOKS: Felons teach our kids"), with only a side note identifying the article as the first of a four-part series, today they sell the series.
In a big black box across the top, knockout-white type reads "The Bad Apples in our schools," which is a good deal less specific and pretty much characterizes all four articles planned by the paper; a photo-illustration of a red apple with worms crawling out of it is stamped with yellow all-cap text with red outline (and a too-deep drop-shadow) that reads "SPECIAL SERIES PAGES 4-5." For what it's worth: "Today's article looks at the monumental costs—in terms of time, dollars and resources—typically needed to remove incompetent teachers."
The real reason, I would guess, that the story isn't sold on its own on the cover is to make room for the main story of today's wood, the one that gets the big, black lettering: "KNOCK IT OFF!" There's a picture of a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag, a dek that reads "Buy a bogus bag—and go to jail: pol." A bit of lede text labeled EXCLUSIVE reads:
Pretty soon, it could be more than just the fashion police who have a problem with your shoddy knock-off bag, like this bogus Louis Vuitton.
Buyers could face a year in jail or a $1,000 fine under a bill proposed by a city councilwoman fed up with cheapskate tourists and Big Apple …"
The first thing that strikes me is how a bill proposed by a city councilwoman could possibly be classified an "exclusive." Well, here's how: The councilwoman gave it to the Post before she introduced it!
"We don't want to be known as the place to come to get counterfeit goods," said Councilwoman Margaret Chin, whose Chinatown district is ground zero for counterfeiters.
Under Chin's bill, which is being introduced Thursday, shoppers caught buying any counterfeit product could be jailed or slapped with a fine of $1,000—a little less than the price of Marc Jacobs' frequently copied Baroque Quilting Mini Stam bag, which retails for $1,250.
Chin seems like one savvy venue-shopper: The story is lovely and everyone will jump on it Thursday, involving as it does so many S.E.O.-friendly elements. Note how many references to name-brand designers have appeared in just the small bits of text I've excerpted here. But by giving the bill to the Post first Chin guarantees one big front page for her bill, which might otherwise have gotten a less splashy delivery everywhere, and which likely still will.
Oh, there's also a strip along the left bemoaning the Yankees' shutout by the White Sox. There's lots of grumbling in the Sports section today, to which the box featuring Derek Jeter somewhat listlessly sends us with that deadly "SEE SPORTS" tag.
Daily News: Today's News gives me an opportunity to spout off a bit about a theory of "funny" photomontages on front pages: Creepy fights funny.
Taken with the fact that Lindsay Lohan's community-service sentence will be carried out doing janitorial work at a city morgue, the paper chose a photo of Lohan in a tight evening gown with a plunging neckline that leaves the center of her chest bare. A layer on top of the photo has a yellow mop bucket labeled "CITY MORGUE" with a red mop-handle stick coming up from it and standing erect before her partially exposed bosom. "LILO'S STIFF SENTENCE" reads the small, all-caps white text. I have no more to say on the topic.
Except that, as if to say the News is not a mean-spirited stalker whose reporting activities on Lindsay Lohan might also be motivated by sexual fantasies of making it with her in the slop-sink-room of a morgue, the paper goes heavily earnest for the rest of the page with a knockout-white headline on a black field pointing to the "SHAME OF THE CITY." An inset photo of the squatters' rowhouse in the Bronx that burnt down early Monday morning, killing a husband and wife and one of their three children is topped with a dek that reads "3 die in fire after agencies fail to shut illegal Bronx apartments."
It's a commendable piece of quick city-records reporting on building and fire-code violations in a Bronx rowhouse that went into foreclosure and has since been owned by a series of banks. Those banks doubtless do not hire building superintendents or maintenance staff or even really collect rent or check whether randoms are coming in and sticking new locks on the doors of single rooms and tapping into neighbors' wiring with extension cords to power heaters, toaster ovens, and coffeepots. Everybody's been to this building over the last few years: the Department of Buildings, the Fire Department, Con Edison. But nobody's been able to shut the place down. Readers of histories of the fire department or of New York in the 1970's will remember the epidemic of such buildings and the massive deaths from fires because of the upside-down real-estate market. The source of the problem, hinted at in today's story but not much explored, is that budget cuts to city departments that work to stem the tide of such illegal dwellings generally first cut into overtime—which means evening and weekend shifts, the shifts where inspectors are actually likely to be given access to buildings by residents.
Observations: Of course there was nothing particularly exclusive about the News' reporting on the Bronx building. But often enough the decision to play something like this big is as important for making the story count as the exclusivity or more extensive reporting can be. In some respects it seems braver, and more important and interesting, than the Post's deal with Margaret Chin. Of course the fact is people do lose their lives, indirectly, from counterfeiting, in that the manufacture (often in horrifying conditions) and distribution of the counterfeit goods is a special province of organized crime. But it's also got to be some kind of rule of local journalism that the most compelling crusades are those that address issues the newspapers' readers have some power as constituents to advance.
The question is whether the gross Lindsay Lohan display removes the News' pontifical credibility today. And after all, as much as they've undersold it, this investigative series in the Post is more impressive than the burning-building crusade. So today's tough. Finally though, I am not picking up the paper with what looks like a Troma video-still on it.
Winner: The New York Post.