Pervs in the Press

PUBLISHED: August 2, 2013

The creeps who edit New York’s Daily News and Post are expanding the boundaries of bad journalism, which, considering the source is quite a trick.

That’s regrettable, because the city’s tabloids used to provide fun and relatively harmless reading. More worrisome: as journalism’s bottom feeders go lower the entire news industry sinks, at least a bit, in response.

I used to live in New York and read the News and Post every day, but picking them up recently for the first time in many months, I was stunned by the loose lingo.

The tabloid’s favorite words these days are “perv,” “fiend” and “creep.” On this day, the Post used perv three times, while the News was totally creeped out.

“Evil behind perv’s door,” read one headline. The story began, “A Manhattan creep has been busted…” Another headline: “Woman slips creep’s grasp.” The story: “Police were looking for a creep Monday…”

Right next to the report about these creeps was a story that used “fiend” in the headline, “sicko” in the sub-head, and “monster” in the lead sentence.

OK, New York’s tabloids have long given up any pretense of serious journalism. Also, there’s more to worry about in the newspaper industry these days than what flavor Kool-Aid the News and Post drink to hasten their deaths.

In their heydays, the News and Post were quite different publications, each with historical significance. The Post lays claim to being the nation’s “oldest continuously published paper,” founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801. For roughly 40 years beginning in 1939 it was among the nation’s most profound liberal voices, until it fell into Rupert Murdoch’s clutches in 1976, where it remains today.

The News, founded in 1919 by media baron Joseph Medill Patterson, was known as “New York’s Picture Newspaper,” a showcase for the industry’s best photographers and cartoonists. Early in my career I wrote numerous features for the paper’s Sunday magazine. Its content, while not as erudite as its broadsheet competitors, was well crafted and compelling. Since 1993, the News has been owned by the real estate tycoon and media mogul Mort Zuckerman.

Both papers have a colorful histories concerning their front-page “wood” – the oversized headlines, so named because decades ago the largest type fonts were made of wood rather than metal. “Ford to City: Drop Dead,” was a News classic in 1975, when the president refused a financial bailout. “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” from the Post’s front page in 1982, remains its best-known wood.

The headlines are still catchy, but are too often about pervs and sickos. All this bad tabloid behavior is in sharp contrast to what is planned for later this month on the opposite coast, when a new paper called The Long Beach Register is launched in Southern California.

At a time of drastic cutbacks and rampant tabloidization, the efforts by Freedom Communications to produce an in-depth, serious journalistic product to compete with the existing Press-Telegram has captivated the industry. The new paper, to be distributed along with the sister Orange County Register beginning August 19, will have a local staff of 20 reporters and photographers.

Aaron Kushner, the maverick businessman behind the new paper, is conducting what the Columbia Journalism Review labeled, “The most interesting and important experiment in journalism.” What’s his great gamble? Spending money on quality journalism.

So far, Kushner’s high road approach has succeeded in boosting the Register’s circulation and revenue. He has hired 75 journalists, and reportedly plans to add at least 25 more.

Kushner’s efforts are being studied by every editor and publisher in America, many of whom seem ready to throw in the towel when it comes to creating quality print content.

I’d like to think even New York’s sickos are paying attention.

(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.

Index of Previous Columns