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

0526woodwar Wood War: Who Wins Todays Grabby Tabloid Battle For Your Eyeballs?UPDATED FROM ORIGINAL: But I don’t want to ruin the suspense either. So please read through to the bottom for some news!

The New York Post: Welcome back, holidaymakers! While we’ve been away the tabloids have been hard at it: there’s been more swine flu and even a giant tiny scary terrorist plot! We will just have to see if we have the opportunity to talk about those Woods in the coming days. Looking at this morning’s editions, though, I was reminded of something a big editor at one of the tabloids said to me a few years ago now. This editor was talking to a young person, not a “media type,” about work. “Oh, so you do like yesterday’s news?” the youngster said, apparently without any malice intended. It was just: that’s what you are for! We talked about this for a while, but this morning’s papers demonstrate the problem quite nicely.

The basic circumstances that may make a story impossible to put on the cover of your newspaper on a given morning are not in the control of the editors: How is the paper distributed? When does it have to reach trucks/planes to get that distribution? When does printing have to start for the paper to reach the trucks? If it happens past that time, there’s not much you can do to get your big breaking story in print for another 24 hours. Of course, you can get stuff up on the Web. But does that help? I don’t have this information, but would love to know what the crossover is between print and online readership for the News and the Post: if you’ve read either of them on the subway in the morning, how likely are you, when you want news, to check the same publications online? The fact is that the “paper” you’ll see at either site (moreso at nydailynews.com than at nypost.com) often bears little or no resemblance to the paper edition printed that morning. But do readers understand that? What I am getting at is, how do the tabloids communicate to their existing readers that they are not in the business of “yesterday’s news”? Not easy.

There is one thing that editors can do however, which is to change the basis of their cover decisions in deference to the facts of the 24-hour, television and internet-driven news environment. I’m going to take as an example the bomb blast at the Upper East Side Starbucks. This happened in the early-morning hours of Monday, too late by far to make yesterday’s print editions. And unions and editorial staffs being what they are, the Post‘s Memorial Day staffing may well not have been everything the paper’s news editors might have wished. It’s a big story! A bomb, right in the central business district of the template New York Post reader. But this was a live event: further newsbreaks are all going to be leaks from the police. Not exactly much hope for a blockbuster advance on the story. And it wasn’t a very dramatic explosion. So, if you’re the editor of the Post, do you decide that this story is too big to have never appeared on the cover of your paper? Or do you decide to let it go from the front page and find something else a little fresher to sell the page? Today the Post made the sentimental choice. Is that decision about library archives, about posterity? Since when is that a motivator for tabloid newspapers? If it’s not—if it’s a real news decision about what readers need to see in the morning on the front of their newspaper—then it’s the wrong one. Literally more than 24 hours of coverage on NY1 and even some of the major national cable networks, and online at nypost.com and nytimes.com has been available to anyone who cared to read beyond the headline on this story. It’s, unfortunately for those of us with some sentimental attachments to newsprint, yesterday’s news.

Not so the sad story of reemerged celebrity Mike Tyson’s four-year-old daughter, who is fighting for her life after an accident on a treadmill. We’ve always admired the Post‘s willingness to do what Us Weekly always makes a big production of doing: shilling the idea that the stars are, in a way, just like us. Their personal tragedies are like the kinds of things your aunt’s very unlucky circle of acquaintances always have happening to them. These are the “relatable moments” in the lives of the big stars. But at its worst moments, you hold up a copy of the Post with a story like this dominating the front page (typographically, at any rate) next to the “supermarket” tabloids that are still talking about Liz Taylor, and you have a hard time telling the difference. We’re not being taste police on behalf of Mr. Tyson, but on behalf of the reader. Note to New York Post: This is to be avoided. Do the Tyson story. Just not like this.

Our regular readers know we have to go to friends to double check anything we say about sports and sports coverage; they’re not around yet though! So we will just note the freaky fact that the Post this morning pumps up the Mets, while the Daily News

Daily News:“High 5 for A-Rod!” screams the News, which is of late very warm toward the maligned slugger. “Perfect day at plate silences Texas boo birds,” the paper continues. Observer.com will have more to say shortly about the massive operation that is working to recover Mr. Rodriguez’s reputation after revelations he tested positive for human growth hormones while playing in Texas; but on its face we do wonder whether any of these accusations are really put to rest simply because A-Rod has some successes on the field? We also wonder, retrospectively, whether the little line “METS DOWN NATS” that’s offered as a refer here, considering that the Post gave the Mets a big box and didn’t mention A-Rod or the Yanks on its front page at all, constitute a sign of a coming realignment: the News has always been more of a “boroughs” paper, which would tend it toward coverage of the Mets, while the Post (Rupert Murdoch’s working relationship with Howard Rubinstein, who also reps the Yankees notwithstanding), normally the elitist among the two, has always tended to give short shrift to the Mets compared to the Yankees. Is this changing?

“‘A GRAVE THREAT.’” So did President Barack Obama characterize North Korea’s “A-bomb test.” “NUKE CRISIS SPECIAL REPORT – SEE PAGES 8-9″ the News promises. Well, it’s the big, big story so why not? We sometimes think a story is too big to be subjected to the analysis for the New York tabloids that will always favor local stories to national ones. The Post had a nice run writing scathing critiques of the U.N., depicting the security council in photomontage as weasels in suits. This is how the News goes national, and it’s … a bore. But, you know, isn’t a bomb that sets off an explosion analogous to the one that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki bigger news than a few broken windows at an Upper East Side Starbucks?

General observations: We think this morning’s front pages demonstrate the News’ more sophisticated handling of the 24-hour news cycle, and the complicated matrix of local versus national news for city tabloids. They also demonstrate the News’ inability to make a super important and interesting story seem, well, interesting or important. Still …

Winner (updated): Daily News*. But, as with A-Rod’s name in the hall of fame, today’s win comes with an asterisk. An error I saw on a digital version of the paper, of the sort that usually gets corrected at the plant if no later than that, appears to have made it into print editions spotted in, at least, Eastern Queens and in the Flatiron District of Manhattan. The subheading on the A-Rod story seems to have been copied and pasted a half inch or so up and to the right of the original, marring the image. This is a big, big error, though one not attributable, I think, to the same people who are normally at war in this column. Still, the newsstand is what counts. And on the newsstand, the News looks like a big lemon this morning. Click here to see the error.