Bloomberg and Kelly, amplified, on the problem of out-of-state guns

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Today's tabloids, April 9, 2012. ()
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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: I see a pattern developing here: The News is making lesson plans, based on current events, like my sixth-grade teacher Olive P. McNeil.

Today's lesson: Police commissioner Ray Kelly's stop-and-frisk policies and the controversial surveillance program he has advanced in the name of counterterrorism are problematic only because we're not letting him take them far enough; also, firm gun-control laws at the national level are needed to protect us from the Guns of the South.

The current event: A shootout in Sheepshead Bay early Sunday morning that left four cops injured, one of whom managed to let off a round on an assailant as he dove in front of his fellow officers with a shield to protect them from further injury.

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It reminds me of the time the News decided to take on a campaign against synthetic marijuana being sold in bodegas that many believed was causing severe injury and even psychotic behavior in users. They rounded up some friends: Andrew Cuomo, who did a long interview, and Senator Charles Schumer, who bylined his own piece calling on the state legislature to ban the sale of the product. The three—the senator, governor and the newspaper—had a success on their hands.

Today, Mike Lupica lends a sympathetic ear to Ray Kelly, who says the real problem is that there are too many guns on the street. His two solutions are stop-and-frisk and gun control. He may be right or wrong, but this interview-editorial-column format is, to me, troubling. Of course when you interview a subject, if they are important enough, their opinions are news and don't particularly need to be challenged by the writer in the instance to be considered such. In this case, the whole thing comes in a package that smells a little worse than that. "After 4 more cops shot, Ray Kelly tells the News ... 'I'M TIRED OF THIS'" reads the main hed in knockout white on a black field; a close-cropped picture of Kelly's angry face takes up the upper right-hand corner, and next to him, four smaller photos of the four cops involved in the skirmish in Sheepshead Bay.

Lupica is falling over backwards in this interview, but that's not quite the problem. The problem is, why couldn't this interview have been conducted by a reporter? Is it that Kelly wouldn't have been willing to say this in a context that was unfavorable to him? If that's the case, the negotiation of this column is pretty problematic. It's made only more glaring by the "EXCLUSIVE" trumpeted beneath the main hed: "Bloomberg: Take gun fight to Washington."

You may be puzzled by this, since the fact that Bloomberg wants tougher federal gun control is exclusive to nobody at all, and in fact is something he says practically daily these days. What is exclusive is that only the News actually publishes an article written by the mayor on the topic. Is Easter a bad day for finding actual reporters at the News?

New York Post: The same shooting story at the Post is fronted as a Day One story, which in one respect is not very sophisticated; but we'll get to that.

"BLUE ANGEL" reads the text; and you're not supposed to think of Marlene Dietrich, but of Detective Kenneth Ayala ("He's Superman!"), the officer who leapt in front of his fellow officers in that Sheepshead Bay apartment during the close-range shootout. "Heroic cop shields pals from shooter" reads the dek. There's a grim-looking headshot of Ayala (floating above a drop-shadow, in an unusual move for the Post).

This is the big news story, but the visual interest isn't meant to be drawn from here. That distinction belongs to the top half of the page, with Yankees manager Joe Girardi on the left and Mets shortstop Rubén Tejada on the right; between the two pictures a weird blue bar, with a blue-to-transparent gradient emitting from either side to create a field for the text, which reads "Mets 3, Yanks 0." "Amazin's undefeated, Bombers still winless" reads white text in a red strip at the bottom of the space (extraneous apostrophe is there in the original). It's not actually that significant that the Mets, who as a team are in disaster mode with no money and no lineup, swept the Braves, or that the Yankees, with their world-beating roster, got swept by the Rays. It's just too early in the season, really, to say what any of it means.

But it's an interesting little factoid, and that's enough for now. 

Of course smarter sports analysts than myself ought to be asking themselves whether they see anything in the teams in these early games that is likely to set a tone for the remaining season of more than 150 more games, but the Post isn't really trying.

Observations: On one hand, I'm annoyed that the News didn't see fit to put any of its actual reporting of the Sheepshead Bay shootout on the front. On the other, it serves as an acknowledgement that the city had all day yesterday, including various public appearances by the mayor and the police commissioner, to absorb the frightening events in that small apartment. The first day you can print a story like this is not, however, the first day of the story. And it is significant that the News is sophisticated enough to know that their first bite at the story is likely not ours. It's something the Post never seems to get: If it's the first morning they could have printed it, they treat it like they are announcing it for the first time, every time.

That said, I don't think the part of this story with emotional impact is really the uses to which the commissioner and mayor put the events in their several campaigns, and I don't think it counts as a campaign for a newspaper to adopt the pet causes of local politicians as their own, especially when they can't even do much more than give them the space to write about it themselves for free. It all feels a little early days of Huffington Post, doesn't it?

The emotional impact is in the gritty details of the event, and one thing you can do if you produce the "day one" print story on digital's "day two" is to get every moment of the story right, with reported detail, and some kind of takeaway that has emotional impact. Ayala's story is that.

It could, however, have gone much further. It could have been a full-page takeover. The mayor's and commissioner's comments, already made publicly, didn't have to be "exclusives" to the Post for them to make a bigger meal out of this. And what's worse, this baseball topper is just a loser in both the looks and substance department. I think the campaign-by-association of the News will probably work on readers, for a while.

Winner: Daily News.