11:26 am Sep. 18, 20121
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?
We've been doing this weekday column now for more than two years. (Recently one reader said that his rough estimate was that the Post has won 289 times, the News 160.) We changed the format recently, and now, in response to something a few readers have asked for, we're thinking of producing the column as an email.
If you're interested in receiving this post each morning as an email, enter your email address in the space below and hit "SUBSCRIBE," and give us a week or so to figure it out and get started. (The page will reload after you hit submit; don't worry that you don't get a pop-up message, we've got you.)
How funny is it that just as a French court rules in favor of the British royal family, preventing any more printing of topless photos of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge on her diamond jubilee tour, she finds herself greeted by topless women in the Solomon Islands bearing flower garlands for her to wear as photographers snapped away? She seemed to think it quite funny, and her loss of composure is, what? It's probably charming to some: She hasn't quite got this game down yet, and after all that makes her quite human. To others it's probably ironic, some kind of payback, though the logic of that doesn't bear much examination. It is very, very funny, though, to the New York Post, which is one of only two New York tabloids indulging lately in a new bout of royals-watching with the emergence of a young princess on the scene.
The Post gives the picture its entire front page, and they're cropping close on Middleton's face, her hands over her face as if to try to protect her composure; the "sideboob" of one of her Solomon Islands welcoming committee is just visible, though the words "ALL A-TITTER" partially cover her up. "Red-faced Kate meets bosom buddy" reads some more text.
As far as I could tell, the photos from this shoot first hit the wires around 3 or 4 p.m. yesterday, though it felt much earlier (I couldn't, at any rate, find an earlier publication of them). This should put in perspective the value of the photos for a print publication that moves most of its papers in the morning: I can't be alone among most readers in having seen as many of these photos as I could want yesterday afternoon. And I don't give two cents about the royals. It's a great photo, but the whole page? If you care, you already had your chuckle yesterday, right?
The News, under the leadership of Briton Colin Myler, has an even more surprising emphasis on British royals than the Post, given the News' history as the New York working-man's paper. At least the Post, which guns for the eyeballs of the city's elites, has a history of fawning over the rich and powerful. At the News it's just confusing. But to their credit, they only devote a half-page to it. (Why, in so doing, they actually choose a wider crop than the Post, giving us more scenery than face close-up, is a mystery to me.)
The 53 percent
The rest of the page is devoted to the video that propelled to virality yesterday of Mitt Romney at a private fund-raiser saying that he'd written off the lazy sods who are locked in for Obama because they want to stay where they are, feeding on the federal teat.
The Post has generally exercised more restraint than the News in putting the 2012 election-cycle's 24-hour stories on its front page, preferring celebrity news and local news whenever something was good enough. The presidential election does feel a bit like a fallback. But wasn't this big enough for the Post? I think part of the problem is that the Post couldn't make out its angle. The News has it easy. "MITT HITS THE FAN" reads the big black text next to a silhouette of Romney calculated because he looks somehow like he is speaking defensively in it. Two bullet points: "Says 47% of Americans are freeloaders" and "I'd have 'better shot' if I were Mexican." It's pretty damning, especially to the News' readership. I don't think the Post can take such a straightforward angle; but the comments were far too ridiculous to be soft-pedaled either. I've been wracking my brains trying to think of the treatment that would have worked for the Post and coming up empty. I'm obviously not sure but I am willing to bet the Post's Col Allan spent some time yesterday doing the same. After all, doesn't pretty much every editorialist say this every day in the Post? I know there's a firewall between the editorialists and the reporters, but from what position can the Post actually mock these quotes? They could turn it into a "process" story—in other words, "Romney campaign in defense mode as secret video surfaces" or whatever, but that would feel like the Times page 1 play, not the Post's. The Romney story defeated the Post.
So the Post wins the battle over Kate Middleton, but loses the war, I think, by giving it the whole page and missing out on the Romney story, which will move papers for the News. If the Post wants to be the dirty tabloid habit of the power elite, they have to know there is sometimes a price to pay.
But can we talk about text a little bit? Because at the end of it all, it may be a rather boring princess, but she is laughing and looking at a woman's bare breasts over the headline "ALL A-TITTER." Sometimes style beats substance, and shrinking that in half, replacing that text with "OMG," and adding Mitt Romney with an awful headline are not improvements from the point of view of catching the newsstand-browser's eye.
It happens often enough that the Post digs itself out of a mediocre front page with a headline, and I think it happened today.
Winner: New York Post.