WOOD WAR: 05.05.2009

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Daily News: It's hard to write a column about a headline that uses symbols. The top of today's Daily News properly reads only: "TREK." But there are five stars above it. So, it's sort of like "[Five Stars] TREK." Get it? Generally in the mornings we look closely at both front pages before coffee, then brood over them while fueling up. Today, it took well into the second cup to realize that the headline kind of said "STAR TREK" in a way. We don't think anyone grabbing a paper from the newsstand will figure it out; but it's clear enough anyway what the story is trying to tell you: that the J. J. Abrams reinterpretation of the classic '60s television show is THE BEST MOVIE EVER MADE. Mr. Abrams seems, looking at the front of the News, to have resisted the temptation to make everybody in his movie unusually hot. These two have pretty much the same level of sex appeal as the original Spock and Kirk did, which is (sorry, Trekkies) limited. Another story on the News Web site, attempting to ride the inevitable publicity for the summer blockbuster and to capture impatient fans Googling search terms related to the movie, promises a week of "intergalactic mancandy" in the persons of Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine, but here they both look kinda nerdy. Aside from my own incredulity at the five-star rating for the flick, which automatically makes this front page a little bit implausible (reading Joe Neumaier's review doesn't do much to explain the five-star rating), it's worth noting that the News, too, is enjoying mimicking a summer blockbuster's signature type in its own headline for the review. In this case, it looks like the News' regular font, but italicized and condensed (maybe?) so that it reminds one forcefully of those iconic letters that zoom out over the Starship Enterprise in the opening credits of the old television show. Again, we wonder if designers ever question this identification of a review with the promotional materials for the movie being reviewed. But we're probably in for a summer of this.

Could Albany have managed something good? Or just managed our expectations? The State Senate's majority leader, Malcolm Smith, "emerged" (they always do!) from closed-door meetings yesterday optimistic about an M.T.A. bailout plan that would reduce fare hikes from 50 cents to 25, putting the new base rate fare in the New York City transit system at $2.25, instead of $2.50. The News presents the story with the headline "MTA DEAL ON TRACK" (get it? Track!), subhead: "Tentative pact would limit fare hikes." It's all a little vaguer than it had to be: People want to see what their next fare will be, so some display that gave you that would probably do more to get readers than it would to ruin whatever "surprise" they might be going for on the inside. At any rate, the back and forth over the M.T.A. plan is not an interesting story to a broad audience; today was a day with a "money quote" ready for general public consumption, and the News didn't really deliver. This headline was written like it should have been a little box, and it should have said "$2.25."

Speaking of little boxes! It appears that Yankee Joba Chamberlain's estranged mother, 44-year-old Jacqueline Standley, has been arrested in Nebraska for selling a gram of methamphetamine to an undercover cop. She pleaded guilty "in the same Lincoln courtroom where her famous son pleaded guilty last month to drunken-driving charges." On the one hand, we're not quite sure why Mr. Chamberlain's mother is important to us: presumably because it sheds light on the personal life of Mr. Chamberlain himself? But we'll have more to say about this below!

We want to thank the News for Sunday's "SILENCE OF THE HAMS" headline, which in our early-morning stupor we misattributed to the Post. Sundays are rough for us: we try not to look but we can't help ourselves, can we, Precious? (Thanks to our readers for correcting us.) Just a fantastic headline for a story about the slaughter of the swine!

New York Post: First of all, we want to thank the Post for Sunday's "SILENCE OF THE HAMS" headline. You go, girls! Today brings no such joy. "JOBA MOM DRUG BUST" takes up the right-hand column: "Yankee kin 'sold meth' to Neb. cop." Wow, this story is taking up a lot of room. Is there a hierarchy of people in the private lives of boldface names? Girlfriends, then wives, then children, then best pals, then parents? We think that's roughly the order of newsworthiness of individuals in the social networks of famous people. JOBA MOM (who is looking an awful lot like another homonymical "Jabba" on the front page) would, in that hierarchy, barely rate. There are reasons she is interesting for Mr. Chamberlain's biographers, we're sure. But it's a little early for all that, isn't it? This has to be covered somewhere in the paper, but it's hard to imagine it was necessary to lead the paper with it.

On the left, Kate Moss is pictured in a nothing little dress, on her way into the ball at the Costume Institute last night. The theme of the evening was "Model as muse," and as we've noted here at The Observer, it was symbolically about how models have influenced designers, and a bit of a throwback: One doesn't become a model as a result of being an actress, and shouldn't! That's like dogs walking backwards. It's the other way around! Kate Moss stands for that a bit: She's that model who became famous as a model (though we seem to remember some kind of terrible pop record? And Jack White is going to "help" her make another). The Costume Institute ball is one of those events where the red carpet is kind of the main deal, from a news perspective. What people wear to it, after all, is sort of the point of the affair, whereas only people like Joan and Melissa Rivers have the cheek (and a very pointy cheek it is!) to assert that it's the main event on Oscar night. Oh, wait! Reads the subhed: "STARS IN FASHION AT MET MUSEUM GALA." Guess the conceit didn't quite take! Anyway, there's a big picture of Ms. Moss, with which you can't really go wrong on a tabloid cover (even if she plays better in Blighty) under the main hedline "Kate's wacky silver foil." And indeed, she does appear to have gotten tangled in a few mylar birthday balloons, as if she tripped over Cathy in Accounting's desk while naked and covered in rubber cement one wacky night. (She does have wacky nights.) Anyway, it's a bit obvious to play the whole diss-a-crazy-outfit game at an event where outrageous and dangerous dressing is encouraged; this is one of the things that theoretically makes the ball a more interesting night for fashion than the increasingly "classic" Oscars. Also, to us, the blingy sliver wrap is less jarring than the toxic quantites of bronzer she appears to have sprayed on. Inside you'll have to look hard to find much criticism of the outfit, as Ms. Moss, a co-chair of the ball with designer Marc Jacobs, takes a backseat to hundreds of other outfits given simple thumbs-up-or-down treatment in a big spread.

General observations: Yesterday was a bad day to take off. We won't pronounce, since we can't earn it here (after all, yesterday's front pages are already packaging fish and lining bird cages this morning), but we think it probably worth mentioning that the Daily News came to the battle girded with a hard-hitting investigation showing what any glazed-eyed post-office teller will tell you: The mail is slow. The Post, meanwhile, took over its whole front page with the story of a video it obtained showing the murder of a 17-year-old on a Harlem street, and how the young man had recently tried to quit the Bloods because of his newborn baby. So, you know, it was another good day for the Post in the Wood War.

Today, not so much. We really don't think "Jo Momma" is such big news, but it will probably move papers. (It's almost Mother's Day!) And Kate Moss should sell some papers, too, even if we find the conceit of the headline doesn't match the coverage very well. (As one editor was recently quoted to us as saying, "That's a story problem, not a headline problem.") But is that all there is to the Post today?

The News seems to be giving the right amount of real estate to the Chamberlain story, even if the headline is a little bungled. Bungled, too, was the M.T.A. headline—it's the result that matters to a broad audience, not the status of the negotiations in Albany—but it's probably the most newsworthy story in the city this morning.

You end up pitting the Costume Institute against Star Trek, which is a difficult battle: The Costume Institute is a bit "society" for the News, and Star Trek is a bit downmarket for the Post. They probably both made the right choice.

We're left to consider the lack of any significant news on the cover of the Post. It's fun when news value is the deciding factor!

Winner: Daily News

WOOD WAR: 05.05.2009