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

lwoodwar 4 Wood War: Who Wins Todays Grabby Tabloid Battle For Your Eyeballs?New York Post: It’s happened before: Vanity Fair breaks some news, and the New York Post floods the non-Vanity Fair demographic with all the goods. This morning it’s accused Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff’s secretary sounding off on what the guy was like before he got all lethargic and doughy. That apparently happened when the F.B.I. and S.E.C. started rooting around in his office, but according to his longtime secretary, Eleanor Squillari, writing in Vanity Fair, when Mr. Madoff was still in clover he liked getting questionable massages, took notes from escort ads at the back of “magazines” (what magazines? Leg Show? Could Mr. Madoff have been a Village Voice reader?), had an affinity for bawdy talk around the office, and periodically told people they were fat. Apparently Ms. Squillari is not a star witness in the case against Mr. Madoff’s investing business; her tale is a bit of juicy runoff that helps explain the preternaturally calm and quiet-seeming man as he was Before the Fall. It’s perfect for Vanity Fair, and for the Post; and even though this is just a pick-up story, it’ll be news to most Post readers as they approach the newsstand this morning. The headline—”Revealed: Madoff’s secrets,” then “Bernie’s longtime secretary breaks her silence in Vanity Fair: Pages 4-5.” Ms. Squillari’s headshot is also perfect: She looks exactly like your mom’s friend from Fresh Meadows who has a big, big secretary job and a crazy boss but makes scads of money and vacations in Arizona. Post newsstand readers might even be more likely to identify with her than Vanity Fair readers: Mr. Madoff’s outrages, rendered in such unflinching detail, are the stuff of the World’s Greatest Kaffeeklatsch.

Yesterday, we appreciated the News’ decision to commit space on the wood to the ongoing travails of the M.T.A., but counseled them to offer readers results right on the front page. We even suggested that the headline ought to read “$2.25,” the price it looked like negotiations would establish as the base fare in the New York City Transit system. Well, maybe the Post was reading! Because, after the fare became official in Albany talks that completed on deadline last night, that’s what the newspaper chose for it’s biggest-type headline at the bottom of the page. The subhead: “Official: Your new subway fare.” There! Couldn’t have been simpler.

And, now, for the City’s Shame: For the fifth time in a row, the Yankees have lost to the Boston devil. The Post gives us a nice little refer of Joba Chamberlain, who seems to be just completing a telling temple-massage of despair.

New York Daily News: Let’s begin at the end: the News puts Joba and the Yankees story in exactly the same place as the Post, on the lower-left in a small box. That seems about right! And their headline is better. The Post had “Yanks fall again to Sox,” while the News went with “Yanks drop 5th in row to Sox.”

Everybody had this Kiefer Sutherland story late yesterday. Here’s the rundown: At a late-night party after the Costume Institute ball at the Met Monday night, Kiefer Sutherland headbutted Proenza Schouler cofounder Jack McCollough after the two had an altercation at downtown celebrity moth-flame Submercer. The story also appears in Page Six this morning, but the News went frontal on it; there are six reporting and writing credits attached to the story inside. It paid off: Among the details delivered in the News story were that the altercation began after Mr. McCollough bumped into Brooke Shields; that the two argued for a while; carries quotes from Mr. McCollough’s interview with police in the misdemeanor assault case; blind quotes from Mr. Sutherland’s friends; and the news, from Ms. Shields’ representatives, that far from appreciating television’s Jack Bauers bid for gallantry, she may be speaking to police today to support Mr. McCollough’s version of the events. The News decided to pursue this as a celebrity and crime story, broke it out of the gossip columns and gave it some space. The problem is the sale of the story on the wood: “Kiefer head-butts designer.” If you don’t already know something about the story, it sounds like it might be some kind of metaphor; the smiling picture of Mr. Sutherland confuses things further. This story needed more display to be sold, but there wasn’t room for it on the front this morning. Why? Because of this headline: “FINALLY! FARE DEAL DONE: Albany pact derails MTA doomsday hikes, but riders will still pay more.” There is a picture of a train, the same picture of a train that everybody has been attaching to these faceless M.T.A. stories for months now. It’s a pretty big picture! And once again, the News opts for a processy headline about Albany instead of a consumery, news-you-can-use angle aimed at riders.

General observations: Let’s do the small thing first: We’ve talked before about the differential treatment of bad news about the Yankees on the front pages of the News and the Post; here it’s like the Post resisted driving in a final nail, and the Post suffers for it. We’re getting a little tired of these giant plays of secondhand news from Vanity Fair on the front page of the Post, too, but that is probably too much a media-insider complaint: The piece will play well, and feels gossipy and relatable. The better story is the Kiefer Sutherland story, for roughly the same market; why didn’t the Post hustle on that? Not clear; maybe the story couldn’t be broken out of Page Six and therefore had to comply with the strict word-count limits and constricting design of that format. Either way, the story inside the Post didn’t belong on the cover. It should have belonged there! And if it had, the Post would likely have done a lot better than the News selling the thing. In fact, with the much better, more compact headline about the M.T.A., the Post gets as much bang out of the news—probably more—than the News did just by devoting acres to it so that it could type out a long headline that missed the point of contact with its readers.

Winner: New York Post.