City tabs' Rihanna love rival sex taunt club brawl wood war

Today's tabloids, June 15, 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: Yesterday, the Daily News website took over the entire width and much of the first screen of its homepage with an enormous photo-collage (a "hero" or a "splash" in some digital-news design dialects) of the Manhattan nightclub where R&B star Chris Brown and rapper Drake and their entourages got into a giant bottle-throwing fight in the early-morning hours yesterday.

Our own Joe Pompeo, after hearing that staff were a little surprised by the aggressive takeover of the homepage, did a little digging and found some British bones.

Of course, the editor of the paper since the beginning of the year has been Colin Myler, who was previously the editor of the now-shuttered scandal-scarred British Murdoch tabloid The News of the World, and his influence is already being felt on the front page as we've noted in this space before. But the digital side's new boss, Ted Young, just started last week, and is making his influence felt much more quickly. He's a onetime digital chief of MailOnline, the digital arm of U.K. scream-sheet The Daily Mail. Below, look at a recent MailOnline "hero" and yesterday's Daily News digital treatment:

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This morning, yet another journalistic Britishism crops up on the front page of the News: The infamous noun pile-up. These have been par for the course for some time at the Post, with its consistent Britospheric influences always weighing more heavily on the front page than at the News, but even then, American readers aren't quite trained to take in the pile.

Today's News carries a picture of the trashed nightclub, inset photos of the "players" (Brown at the top, Drake at the bottom, and the pop star Rihanna in the center) under a giant headline that reads "R&BEEF!" The "BEEF" part is in red, which I'll get to in a minute.

What I want to talk about now is the dek: Rihanna sex taunt sparks love-rival club carnage. A noun pile-up occurs when every single word in the hed could be read as a noun; more perfect specimens are ones in which every single word is in fact a noun but some are used to modify other nouns in a slangy way. At their best, they are little puzzles that are nevertheless simple to unravel. Then they are the greatest.

The noun pile-up, it has been noticed, is enabled by multiple cycles on a single story. For a local example, consider the fact that "RAPE COP" can be fairly quickly understood by readers to refer to whatever police officer is presently charged with rape. From here, pile-ups begin.

The blog "headsup," devoted to the intersection of language and media, has a special love for British noun piles; this post is a good introduction, and collects among many great ones, including one of my favorite noun-pile-up headlines in recent memory: "Blast Kelly lands on road in bed." (From the article's lede: "A schoolgirl [named Kelly] was blasted out of her attic bedroom in a gas explosion and landed in the street—still tucked up in bed.") She'd already been christened "BLAST KELLY" so most readers probably understood the hed.

This is a good noun pile. You just want to say it five times fast: Rihanna sex taunt sparks love-rival club carnage! It could only be improved if her dumb nickname were put in, too: Ri-Ri sex taunt sparks love-rival club carnage! It might even have been improved by taking out the only word acting as a verb here: Ri-Ri sex taunt love-rival club carnage! Now that's a pretty good noun pile! And if we were in Britain, that hyphen cheat would disappear entirely (consider the real British headline "Pregnant frying pan attack teen surrender"), and we'd have "Ri-Ri sex taunt love rival club carnage."

What I object to, and something the British tabloids would never do, is running the text over the photo like this and choosing black and red for the text colors. As large as the headline is, and as apt as the headline text, this is the kind of headline that should give readers a black eye, and it just doesn't pack a punch because it's not white-on-black or black-on-white.

New York Post: So is the News out-Britting the Post? So many words! But they're good: "The face that launched a thousand bottles!" Like some kind of pop-music Helen of Troy, Rihanna appears in silhouette in the lower right-hand corner of the page, in front of this same picture of the trashed nightclub; at the top of the page, "Chris Brown, Drake in wild club brawl over Rihanna."

This is going to be hard! So let's get straight down to it.

Observations: The fact that, for my purposes, it was a lot more fun to parse the News front page isn't really a factor here. But really, the Brits know how to do print. What other country has such devotion to its print tabloids? If the tabloids can push us into online heroes and outrageous front-page noun piles then life will be a lot more fun, and people will be brandishing them a lot more, screaming the headlines out loud to their friends. The surprise is that the News is leading that charge this morning. The Post head could have been in the Times, except that it's funny. I can't resist the pull.

Winner: Daily News.