The New York Post
is still publishing out of Manhattan.
We know this because we checked the other day at the Post ‘s 10th-floor newsroom on Sixth Avenue
in midtown. There, a couple hours before deadline, we found Steve Dunleavy, the
reed-thin crusading columnist, sitting in a cubicle, waiting to find out what a
cop had told federal investigators looking into the Abner Louima torture
Mr. Dunleavy, of course, is a steely veteran of Rupert
Murdoch’s media campaign, having served 35 years under his fellow Australian’s
wing-some of them in the motherland, 14 of them at the Post .
“The New York Post
wakes people up in the morning,” Mr. Dunleavy said. When one grabs the tabloid
in the morning, he said, “You start to believe that you are in New
York, or you are in Queens, or
you are in Brooklyn …. It is a triple espresso.”
But these days, the wake-up man serving the triple espresso
is an editor named Col Allan, who’s of Sydney, Australia,
not this town. Since his installation in April-when Mr. Allan, the former
editor of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph known for his wild-man product, was named to replace the suddenly canned Xana
Antunes-the new boss has aggressively restitched the Post into a newspaper that looks and feels a little like a giant
prawn out of water: foreign, a little disoriented, not quite the defining
homegrown newspaper it was not too long ago, even.
Such is this city’s devotion to the Post that Mr. Allan’s version has been deconstructed within an inch
of its life all over town: its design, its voice, the number of boxes on the
front page, the quality of the headlines, the surefootedness of its feature
choices. Somehow it didn’t seem to have that familiar, well-worn Post brazenness. The questions began
with the curiously archaic “BENEDICT JEFFORDS” front page that showed up the
day the Vermont Republican Senator switched parties last May, and continued
through a strange series of screaming headline choices that seemed more vulgar
than funny. The paper took on that well-known invasive rasp that foreigners use
when trying to approximate what they believe is the New York sensibility-the
same thing schoolchildren do when they say ” Zees
eez my wee-wee ” to sound as if they’re speaking French.
When Rudy Giuliani’s divorce lawyer declared that the Mayor
couldn’t pay his legal bills, the Post
threw a crude cartoon of Mr. Giuliani in a barrel on the front page that looked
stamped on by invaders from Sydney.
The net effect has been a curious hybrid of Murdochian and Maury Povich
sensibilities-stories about Shark Boys, Freak Boxes, Sausage and Egg Hermits;
covers that look like frantic guesswork. It all culminated in the
simultaneously unfunny, distasteful and uninteresting (at least to most of New
York) $65,000 “Lizziemobile” vrooming around the Hamptons, with the supposed
purpose of stoking a crazed class-consciousness in New York-they have that kind
of thing in other far reaches of Mr. Murdoch’s empire-while being bid on by an
imagined, voraciously vengeful readership incensed by Ms. Grubman’s high-handed
crack-up at Conscience Point.
In short order, the Post -once
as familiar as the weary doorman and nice sewery scent of subway tunnels-became
an instant mystery to Manhattan
loyalists, many of whom adored it six months ago.
“Arrgh! I don’t like it!” said
Lucianne Goldberg, the Fran Lebowitz of the Manhattan Drudge Report crowd-in
other words, the Post ‘s diehard
audience. “And I have to lay it on Col Pot! He doesn’t get New
York. He doesn’t get the New
York sense of humor. You either get it or you don’t.
You know when something is funny.
“The gossip network-the people in the media, the
intellectual engine that drives this city-always liked to get a shot [at] the Post ,” Ms. Goldberg said. “But now, I
don’t know how to describe it. It’s like clip-and-paste reading. I mean, they
really had the Zeitgeist of the city
until this new regime.”
Ms. Lucianne pointed to the Post edition on Sunday, July 29. The lead story was a trumped-up
exclusive, “Rx FOR DEATH,” about buying drugs online. At the bottom of the
page, there was a tease for a story on John Travolta and the women he finds
“John Travolta? That’s not a front-page story,” Ms. Goldberg
“I just thank God they haven’t touched the gossip,” said
Michael Musto, the Village Voice
columnist and, it could be argued, Lucianne Goldberg’s polar opposite. “I
really need them for that. It’s a requirement for me to stay alive.”
It’s amazing how quickly the Post was transmogrified. Before Col-B.C.-the Post was a confection that, at its best, combined a microscopic
view of city insiders with an unabashedly conservative take on national
politics and personality-driven coverage of local stories, particularly
politics. It was a paper you didn’t have to agree with to love. More important,
it showed up on newsstands each morning representing a coherent
whole-reflecting and defining, in its own unique way, how the city saw itself.
This is not to say that the B.C. Post didn’t have its weaknesses. Under Ms. Antunes, sources at the
paper said, it had begun swinging into a softer tabloid, paying particular
attention to feature-driven London
tabloids like the Daily Mail . Ms.
Antunes pushed for a news-features department that would produce one- and
two-page features for the news hole, such as takes on Salman Rushdie’s rebirth
as a swinging Manhattanite and the legal battle between hip hotelier Ian
Schrager and bar owner Rande Gerber. In the process, however, critics felt that
the paper paid less attention to breaking news and gave up valuable ground on
the metro-news front to the Daily News.
Under Mr. Allan, this has changed. The news-feature
department has been dissolved and its staff reassigned across the paper (two
writers have left). Ms. Antunes’ quirky vision has been replaced by something
that looks like the line-up of a bland local newscast in Anytown,
U.S.A.: shrill crime
stories, limp sex yarns, meaningless celebrity worship and touching tales of
lost pets and wedding dresses left in cabs. Worse, the paper picks up and
rewrites half-baked tales from the U.K.-the Post
took Fleet Street’s lead that George Harrison was at death’s doorstep ( gong! ) and that Anna Kournikova got
married in Russia ( gong! again).
“It seems like less of a local paper; it has more of a
national flair,” said one Post
Pete Hamill, a columnist for the News who briefly edited the Post
in 1993, said he thought the paper had been especially strong in the previous
year-in other words, B.C.
“Now,” he said, “what I get is more of a ‘Holy shit!’
attitude to a lot of things, which can be exhausting.”
The Lizziemobile, it seems, has been Mr. Allan’s nadir to
date. Giving away a Mercedes S.U.V. just like the one Lizzie Grubman drove when
she backed into 16 Hamptons clubgoers on July 7 sounds like the kind of
nuance-free, lampshade-on-the-head joke you might see cooked up by the creators
of a Tom Arnold sitcom. (It was actually born in the Post ‘s marketing department.)
Naturally, the Lizziemobile contest has attracted more than
its fair share of media coverage-yes, some people have found it funny, albeit
in an admittedly sicko way-but it’s safe to say the joke has backfired. Lawyers
for Ms. Grubman’s alleged victims have attacked the paper’s judgment, and the Web
site The Smoking Gun recently broke the news that Post reporter Farrah Weinstein-the scribe assigned to tool around
the Hamptons in the Lizziemobile-had been the driver during a serious and
unfunny automobile accident several years ago that resulted in a $1.75 million
out-of-court settlement. In other words: Oops!
Mr. Allan’s Post
front pages have been similarly and regularly unfunny. Sure, there have been
some good ones-”JENNA AND TONIC” was memorable-but many of them are merely
loud. The report that New York
public schools report an average of nearly one sexual-abuse complaint every
day-Schools Chancellor Harold Levy actually countered that a large portion of
those complaints involved inappropriate comments-carried a headline that
sounded like a movie on the Lifetime
network: “SECRET SHAME OF OUR SCHOOLS.” Changes in the subway system were
labeled an assaultive and uninteresting “SUBWAY CHAOS.” A week and a half
later, Time Warner Cable-a popular target for the News Corp.–owned Post -rejiggered the order of its
channels on its system: “CABLE CHAOS.” But across the newsstand, on the Daily News front page, Mariah Carey was
having some kind of a breakdown and there was news of a frantic 911 call. It
looked as if there was a terrible role reversal taking place, as in the Seinfeld episode where Elaine screams in
sudden recognition, ” I have become George !”
Had the Post become … the News ?
Or was the cable cover a sop to the Emperor himself? The
mission of Fox News, and its ongoing battle with Time Warner, is one of the
preoccupations of News Corp. Was Col Allan authoring a front page to appeal to
Mr. Murdoch, a cableland kingpin? Everyone else on planet Earth knew the Mariah
Carey breakdown was tabloid gold.
And it has to be asked: Does the Post ‘s turn benefit the News ?
The News has long had a numbers lead
over the Post , but it’s lacked
mindshare in Manhattan and has long
felt like the plain-Jane stepsister to the dark, raffish Post . (Such criticism has long rankled News ies, who believe their product may be duller but is more
comprehensive, and that the Post is
really just a shallow, overrated darling.)
“Besides both being tabloids, the News and the Post are
really quite different animals,” said Ed Kosner, the News ‘ editor. “And the Post
is making that distinction clearer every day. We’re focused on lively,
aggressive local coverage with lots of investigative and enterprise reporting
and service. The Post is doing its
thing-like the grotesque Lizziemobile giveaway.”
But there is a sense that the News seems to be recharged by the Post ‘s missteps, turning in strong coverage of metro stories like
the recent Rockaway Beach
drownings . The News
has shown signs of stealing Post
territory with a political gotcha story that caught Mayoral candidate Mike
Bloomberg with sweatshop-produced campaign T-shirts.
Any signs of life from the News have traditionally irritated Mr. Murdoch, of course. Recently,
the News Corp. boss turned to Mr. Kosner outside a reception following
Katharine Graham’s funeral in Washington, D.C.,
and said, “You gave us quite a wake-up call.” He was referring to the pre–Col
Allan era, but it’s been a long time since anybody
at the Post has said anything
like that to anyone associated with the News .
In the past, Post staffers usually
dismissed the News as a pale, used-up
ghost of its former self; but now, the News
is suddenly looking as sure-footed on its home turf as the Post had recently been.
Then again, Col Allan’s tinkering may be making Mr. Murdoch
happy, and may signal a transition. For decades now, the paper has held a
special place in Mr. Murdoch’s media empire. Mr. Murdoch is now 70, and he’s
thinking about what happens to his company after he steps down as chairman and
Last winter, his 29-year-old son, Lachlan Murdoch, was named
deputy chief operating officer and was to cement his role in, among other
ventures, the Post . One of Lachlan’s
charges was to stop the bleeding at the money-losing Post -and a priority is to boost circulation to the point where the
paper can try to win advertising away from the competition. (Circulation had
risen slightly under Ms. Antunes’ reign, but apparently not enough to satisfy
Col Allan was hand-picked to make this happen, of course.
And in his brief time in New York,
Mr. Allan has shaken up more than just the paper’s look and coverage. After a
series of highly publicized firings-Mr. Allan sacked, among others, lefty
columnist Jack Newfield and managing editor Stuart Marques-the Post ‘s internal pulse is changed, too.
Sources said the newsroom’s famously jovial and wisecracking atmosphere
(whatever you could say about Post
reporters in the past, the old line used to go, at least they were happy) has
become waiting-room tense. Public meltdowns, once rare, occur more often.
“There’s a lot of shouting,” said one newsroom source. “This wasn’t the kind of
place where you heard that sort of thing.”
Mr. Allan, who rarely left the office in his first month of
the job, is now strolling around the 10th floor like a foot cop patrolling his
new beat. “He definitely gave up on his cocooning … he’s out on the floor, he’s
very visible” said one newsroom source, who called Mr. Allan’s presence
Added another longtime Post reporter: “Morale couldn’t be
But Mr. Dunleavy- Post ie
to the core-brushed this kind of criticism off. He also launched into a
spirited defense of Mr. Allan.
“I’ve known him for a million years,” Mr. Dunleavy said.
“He’s a very, very typical, basic Australian journalist, which means no
nonsense, no in-fighting, no politics, but let’s get the circulation up. Col
has a very clear, crystal-clear idea of where the paper is going and should be
So no worries, Mr. Dunleavy advised, as strongly as he
“I can’t guarantee that the sun will rise in the east and
set in the west,” Mr. Dunleavy said, “but I can guarantee you one thing: Every New York Post reporter has fun .”
– additional reporting
by Sridhar Pappu