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

The New York Post: Last night, the President and First Lady arrived in England, bringing along hundreds of security guards

The New York Post: Last night, the President and First Lady arrived in England, bringing along hundreds of security guards and lots of vials of Barack Obama’s blood. No, this isn’t some kind of remake of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, though the British press is trying to play it that way. And that’s a lot of what you get when you turn inside to read the story in today’s Post, flagged on the front page with the headline “Cheery O in London,” which makes us wonder just how happy headline writers were when they realized the number of puns at low character-counts the new president would afford them. It’s basically a dry rundown of the Obamas’ day in London, much of it told through the lens of what British newspapers said about it, and some little squibs about what happened there yesterday. The piece has the most real estate on the front page, but it’s a picture-treatment mostly (tune in tomorrow to see if they decide to find a picture of the Obamas with the Queen, or whether they decide they’ve already used that cover image today), hence no all-caps in the headline.

That honor is reserved for the Post‘s story about a proposal to reduce fare hikes on subways and buses by adding a 50-cent surcharge on taxi rides: “50¢ CAB TAX: New kick in teeth plan,” reads the headline. Out of a large “menu” of possible sources of revenue for the flailing Metropolitan Transportation Authority presented by Gov. David Paterson and Sheldon Silver, the cab tax is the one least likely, we think, to rile the populists. After all, looked at objectively, isn’t it likely that a cab tax is less regressive than a fare hike on subways and buses? But again, the Post‘s complicated form of populism comes into play: the paper finds its angle interviewing cab drivers, who, probably correctly, calculate that riders will tip less once a fare hike goes through.

Enough “politics.” What will the inside of TopShop look like when the hoi polloi storm the doors at the British cut-rate fashion megastore opening on Broome and Broadway tomorrow morning? The Post got an exclusive look, and there are lots of pictures. Umm, the men’s store is called “Topman.” The men most likely to shop there will understand why this is mildly amusing.

Daily News: It’d be a surprise if at least one top story didn’t appear in both tabloids. What is more interesting is when both tabloids take the same crop of the same news photo for that story. That’s what has happened with the picture of Barack and Michelle Obama appearing on the front page of both newspapers today. We decided to look in one place, by no means comprehensive but a frequent well of photographs for both newspapers, to see what options they had.

On Getty Images, a stock photography Web site, where there are 27 images available to subscribing news organizations of the Obamas arrival at Stansted Airport outside London, there really is only one where a) you can see both of their faces clearly (albeit in profile); b) the two are close enough together that you can crop the picture closely and get both of their faces in. So you see, there are technical reasons the pictures are often the same. But of course, you can write anything you want of a generic picture like “Obamas Arrive in England,” (or, as the Daily News billboards it, “ALL ABROAD”), and inside, the Daily News story is completely different from the Post‘s, focusing mostly on the fact that the Obamas are scheduled to meet the Queen today.

Michelle got the briefing on courtly etiquette and apparently briefed her husband on all of it on Air Force One. Do you still have to walk backwards out of the room when you leave her? Unclear. But you touch her hand instead of shaking it, and if she stops going for the chip-n-dipper, you’re supposed to, too. All in all it’s a weird reversal: the News goes for the soft, social touch with lots of little details while the Post does a wire-copyish dump.

Then you remember that the Post kind of takes Britain seriously in a way the News doesn’t, and it all makes sense. One is reminded that the Post, despite those flags that have flanked the flag on the front page since Sept. 11, isn’t quite an American company; the American approach is to find the Queen and everything about her kind of absurd and cute and funny, which is where the News story comes from.

The News stretches further into territory we thought belonged to the Post when it takes the rather drastic step of sexually objectifying our city’s top baseball players. “The Jeter Meter: Our guide to sexiest ballplayers” uses a weird scoring system of 1 to 5 where 1 is ugly, to rank the top 10 New York players against Derek Jeter for sexiness. So, Derek Jeter is the sexiest, which is why he is not included; the rest are the 10 next sexiest, but all of them are already sexy, though some are only middling sexy and score 3’s (nobody gets a 2 or a 1, so why bother with them?)

And there is something else: at the end, five players who are not from New York get honorable mentions. No offense, New York, but these five spots engage a larger, uh, playing field, with many more players to choose from. You leave the whole thing with the impression that New York City is home to America’s ugliest ballplayers. By the way: “BERMAN GETS AXED; PAGE 5.” That’s Len Berman, the NBC sports guy, who after more than two decades is leaving Chuck and Sue behind to fritter away their time asking the Mayor whether he has any tattoos.

General observations: We look inside the papers to see if we can understand anything about the cover decisions the newspapers made, but what we find when we get there isn’t really a factor here. So while we found the News coverage added a dimension to the barrage of information about the Obamas in Britain once you made it inside, we are here to judge front-page treatment, and “ALL ABROAD” is first of all a bad pun; second of all a particularly inept one since it pictures the Obamas deboarding; and lastly conveys nothing specific: who is “all”? The Obamas? And isn’t “abroad” a bit vague? “Cheery O in London” was annoying but it got the job done. Len Berman’s firing is a good story, but how many people will know who “Berman” is without any other context? A good story with a useless Page One refer. The refer has roughly the same weight as the Post‘s TopShop deal, in which you know precisely what you are going to get before you open the paper. And then the Post makes the wise decision (finally!) to front-page a granular development in the transit story. Remember, many of your readers are picking the thing up on their way down the subway stairs. Synergy! The sexy Derek Jeter business looks like good old-fashioned tabloid fun; the fact that the operation is bungled doesn’t matter because you’d have to buy the paper to find that out. But it’s not enough.

Winner: The New York Post.

UPDATE: Look very closely at the photos on the front pages: they are not the same! Taken maybe half a second apart. We think the basic analysis we subjected the image to still stands, though. Hat tip to my former Triple-X Photo-Touch-playing self: your response time isn’t what it was, but you got us there in the end. Wood War! Who Wins Today’s Grabby Tabloid Battle For Your Eyeballs? (UPDATED!)