10:00 am Oct. 25, 20111
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: Somehow I can't picture too many commuters this morning coming in from Long Island getting much of a chortle out of the News calling their commuter rail system the "LAME IDIOTIC RAIL ROAD."
If you're going to go with that idea—change the initialisms so they refer to unflattering words—you should at least resolve to do better at it than this or scrap the conceit. It's not as though there aren't other possibilities for covering the lightning-induced train panic that greeted rush-hour passengers on Sept. 29 on their way back home.
Here's some marginally clever text from the article: "A bolt from the sky took down one branch of signals on the commuter railroad, but a dolt down below made the situation much worse." Wasn't there something in there, somewhere? Or is it possible that the idea of calling it the LAME IDIOTIC RAIL ROAD was such a roaring success in the editor's office that other pseudoinitialisms didn't even occur to them?
At least Long Islanders might be interested in the story, which details the Long Island Rail Road's apology to customers yesterday for the mishap. I don't fault the paper for going regional: The News has the reputation of being more popular on the Island and in Queens than the Post, catering more to suburban and suburb-minded readers in the working to middle class that clamber onto the LIRR each morning from Port Jeff to Douglaston to make their way into jobs in the city. I don't have circ numbers here to back me up of course. But it's an important demographic for the News.
So yesterday the LIRR admitted that it was human error that caused hours of delays and stopped trains during the evening rush late last month; lightning initially disabled part of the signal system but a goof by an unnamend LIRR employee disabled much of the rest of the system afterward. They also admitted that they erred in charging a $10 fee to customers who applied to have the price of their commute refunded.
But I think the paper has a guilty conscience this morning. Aware that they've put something extremely unsexy on their front page, they scanned the photo agencies for nice cleavage pictures and came up with one of Salma Hayek in a tight dress with an aggressive decolletage making her way into the Ed Sullivan Theater to film with David Letterman. "SULTRY SALMA!" reads yellow text over her upper legs. No page number is indicated leading us to a story.
You see it also in their efforts to put stickers for as many other stories on the front as possible. A snipe over the flag leads us to a two-page consideration of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Vaguely, the package is spun from news that the terms "OCCUPY WALL STREET" and "WE ARE THE 99%" are the subject of trademark claims, one by a Long Island couple. But the lead story is Joanna Molloy interviewing hawkers selling protest-themed merch at Zuccotti Park. For no reason I can think of, the snipe is green, a color normally reserved for news about the New York Jets. "GUERRILLA CAPITALISM AT ZUCCOTTI PARK" it reads.
And yet another blue box above the flag is devoted to Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky's text message to cabbies reminding them that unnecessary honking can lead to $350 fines. It's not clear that there is any new mechanism for enforcing the rule, except to remind everyone of it. Last year exactly 400 violations were cited; if you live in the city, you've heard 400 illegal cab-horn honks in the space of a single normal week.
The New York Post: Speaking of which: It's the whole front page of the Post anyway. I think readers will get a small kick out of the enormous knockout-white text that says "SHUT THE BEEP UP!" Though I think HONK would have been better where BEEP is. It sounds more like the word they are replacing here, and more like the sound a car horn makes. You'd think that when cabbies leaned on their horns a sound came out that was like the sound of an iPhone getting a new text message. "Cabbies ordered: Horn out!" is similarly displeasing.
There's lede text too, which is an impenetrable thicket of snowclones and cliches: "It's the sound and the fury—and peace at last for noise-weary New Yorkers." Is some young Gertrude Stein fan writing for the Post?
There's the usual picture of a disheveled and slightly angry-looking cabbie at the wheel, and one of those cute signs that hasn't changed since the '80s that says "DON'T HONK - $350 PENALTY."
As I mentioned before, last year 400 drivers were penalized for honking. David Yassky's text message and campaign encourages people to call 311 to report violations, but I doubt that will do very much. As the Post itself points out, how is the city to investigate whether a single cabbie whose medallion number is reported by a civilian actually honked in a crowd of honking cars on the on-ramp of the Queensboro?
The Jets aren't playing this coming weekend, but the Post gives a little strip on the bottom to address the back-and-forth trash talk that seems to have become such a fixture in sports reporting. It's like watching a W.W.E. match and I'm bored.
Observations: I think most mid-level commissioners would kill to be able to get the kind of press Yassky has got from that single text message. But then, the Taxi and Limousine Commission has always been a public-facing agency in disproportion to its role.
Taxis are hot in a way that such central city functions as school construction and labor relations are not. Still, either Yassky's press operation is very good, or the Post is very obsessed with taxis. And come to think of it: How fitting that the Post should go big on taxis, the mode of choice for the transport of wealthy Manhattanites, on a day when the News goes big on a railway where drinking cans of beer in brown bags after the whistle blows at 5 p.m. is part of the culture?
Let's stipulate that despite our worst fears about what kind of pap the public wants in their newspapers, this random Salma Hayek pic is a nonstarter. I'm also troubled by the design of the front page of the News today; squint and it looks like some kind of Greek salad, with all the red and black and green and white. The lame joke is practically repulsive. So despite the fact that I suspect the LIRR story is more important to commuters from points East than the cab story is to Manhattan, the sale is so bad they can't get the win.
Winner: The New York Post.