Wood War! Who Wins Today’s Grabby Tabloid Battle For Your Eyeballs?

woodwar 10 Wood War! Who Wins Todays Grabby Tabloid Battle For Your Eyeballs?Daily News: Jiverly Wong’s letter declaring his intention to commit mass murder in Binghamton was meant to be released to the media: It was to News 10 Now in Syracuse that he delivered it before he murdered 13 people, in an apparent response to paranoid impulses, given the contents of the letter. But this letter was no Unabomber manifesto, the ramblings of an unholy fool destined for tragedy; it’s the sad and quite coherent rambling of an immigrant whose English, line-by-line, isn’t that great and who seemed to believe that police officers were hounding him out of the country, stealing money from him and touching him in his sleep. The only thing that stands out is the closing line: “YOU HAVE A NICE DAY,” which becomes wood for the Daily News today. It’s reminiscent of that smiley-face from the Watchmen with the bleeding bullet hole in its forehead, and not in a good way. Apparently that “sick taunt” was enough to make the letter itself front-page news, and it’s pretty grabby. But did the News need two thirds of its front page to sell this?

 

The rest of the page is so graphically quiet, with so little left to it, that the News‘ decision to flag the earthquake in Italy loses much of its potential drama. And never mind the third story, which isn’t really even a story so much as a refer to the back page: “Santana’s sharp, but CC is not.” Since fans already know what happened last night in the Mets’ and Yankees’ first games, we think a Sports refer on Page One ought to advance the point of view on the news a bit, and this is pretty lame. Taking the risk of looking at the back page, we see that the News isn’t shy in its analysis of what happened last night: “MONEY FOR NOTHING” reads the Sports-page cover depicting Yanks’ last great hope, the expensive C.C. Sabathia, looking tolerably worn out. We can understand not wanting to repeat the same analysis on the front and back, but could we have had some of the energy of this coverage on the front? We’d have voted to give C.C. somewhere between a half and a third of a page, and some real display copy, too.

The New York Post gives more real estate to last night’s baseball action, but somewhat inexplicably gives it to Johan Santana instead of C.C. Sabathia. It’s not just that we think bad news sells better than good news—both the tabloids have disproved that old canard over and over again. It’s that the loss by the Yankees and the buildup over Mr. Sabathia was such more dramatic fodder than Johan Santana’s (to his credit) predictably good performance for the Mets. Again, the back page isn’t shy (though it’s a bit of a stretch): “BIRDBATHIA,” it reads. We don’t see this entering the sports fan’s vernacular for future poor performances.

The Post, too, has decided to flag this letter from the Binghamton shooter, but manages to get the message across in a single line at the bottom of the page, in knockout text on a red field. This is probably what we would have done with it, too, though we hadn’t thought of “HAVE A NICE DAY.” But now it’s time to talk about something else: Hello, FRIAR TUCK! This morning the Post goes big on Staten Island pastor William Blasingame, who apparently embezzled congregation money to buy fancy clothes and get cosmetic procedures, as well as to pay insurance on his car. It’s a pretty great headline. And it’s one of those Post pieces that you imagine will dribble out the facts in a series of paragraphs that repeat the premise with a new joke that might have been the headline. Inside the headline is “Tale of Beauty and the Priest.” Not bad! “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the cutest clergyman of them all?” the article begins. Later, it is explained that his Stapleton parish, with its Victorian Gothic church, had set up a fund to cover the “maintenance, upkeep and beautification of its grounds.” But! “Blasingame was using the money to fund his own beautification and upkeep, officials said.” Zing. On its face it’s just another instance of tabloid anticlericalism, in the broad sense of the word: The petty officials that run your life are vain, prideful and preposterous, and will take you for a ride if you let them! Come join us as we catch them redhanded and humiliate them! But the fact that this priest isn’t Catholic will greatly reduce the population that will feel directly implicated in the case: Countless Catholic readers will devour anything about a Catholic priest’s misdeeds pretty much wherever he works, but a charismatic pastor with mostly his own congregation—on Staten Island no less!—and not much else to worry about still seems like somebody else’s business. And no, the fact that the Post doesn’t specify the denomination before the jump doesn’t matter: If the priest were Catholic it would say so. Is it a stretch to think that the prospect of the “FRIAR TUCK” headline is what led the Post to put this on the front page in the first place?

General observations: It’s a hard one. Which is worse: devoting so little space to the season opener on Page One that it does you no good, or choosing the wrong story to play big?  The box treatment at the top of the page over at the News may as well not exist, but the Post doesn’t exactly hit it out of the park with that Johan Santana display either. We think this breaks to the Post, by a hair. We also think the Post gave the right treatment, from a news perspective, to the Jiverly Wong letter; it’s a question of what’s left to you, and whether you’re forced to do something big with “HAVE A NICE DAY.” Without asking what else there was in the paper today (presumably that was already handled in a Page One meeting yesterday and the answer was “not much”), and strictly from the standpoint of selling the poor consumer on the front page, we have to give points for drama to the News here. If you haven’t picked it up yet, though, keep in mind you’ll be disappointed. What’s left is the earthquake in Italy and … Friar Tuck! Faint heart never won fair maiden, but sometimes going big with the wrong story means going wrong in a big way. We call “FRIAR TUCK” a stinker, though we again have to hand it to the headline writer.
“HAVE A NICE DAY” beats it.

Winner: The Daily News.