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Tabloid wars Explains Press Better Than Bill Keller Ever Could



One reason certain elements of society have had so much success demonizing journalists -- besides, you know, our own screw ups -- is because we're so bad at explaining ourselves.

How do we choose story ideas? How do we research stories? How do we go up to peopl eduring the worst moments of their lives and ask them to tell us everything?

These are natural questions every newspaper reader and newscast viewer has asked at one times or another. And they're the questions we answer the worst of all. Until now.

That's because Bravo has come up with another compelling reality TV product -- this time, based on following various reporters from the scrappy tabloid the New York Daily News. It's dubbed, of course, Tabloid Wars, debuting at 9 p.m. Monday.

Turns out, one big reason we choose certain stories, is for impact -- which for the New York Daily News, means selling newspapers -- as is reinforced time and again by recently-departed Daily News editor Michael Cooke. Cooke, a typically hard-charging British tabloid editor, drools over one gossipy story noting, "This is what sells newspapers -- they want a lotti Gotti."

(Other bon mots which prove he is perfect for his latest gig -- a return to the soulless heart of Hollinger Co. to supervise editorial operations at the collection of Chicago-based newspapers which includes the Sun-Times -- include: "News sells and big news sells big." And "At the end of the day, I'm the editor. I get what I want." Talk about inspiring leadership.)

Bravo has fashioned three months of footage into a six-part series on the Daily News' daily struggle for news, outlining a cadre of determined, just-cynical-enough-to-get-throught-it-all reporters who, in the end, will do anything to get that day's paper's "wood." (that's the colorful name for the story featured in bold type on the cover.)

Of course, it's also proven an incredible advertisement for the Daily News. Which explains why rival the New York Post immediately floated a story that it turned down Bravo before they went to the Daily News (because, you know, they're just too high-minded to bother with a reality show which doubles as a six-part commercial for their product in prime time). Frankly, given how much attention this series is giving its larger-circulation rival, Post execs shouldn't be too aggressive about telling people ho they turned down this golden marketing opportunity.

The Daily News' reporters have that New York intensity for sure; nobody at Mother Times is gonna get hysterically happy over nailing a Christian Slater groping story the way
police reporter Tony Sclafani does. In fact, Sclafani blows off an early depature for vacation to get married to stalk Slater at a performance on Broadway -- I'm betting there's a pool in the newsroom on how long that union will last.

The flaws here are immediate: though they capture the pointlessness of the gossip reportage (longtime gossip queen Joanna Malloy whined to NPR that she was re-evaluating her focus after seeing her "flibberdigibbet" performance -- I'm sure her six-figure salary proved a potent counter-argument) there is, in the first two episodes, not much capturing the viciousness of the reporting or its loose relation to fact.  And, of course, there's hardly any reporters or editors of color working at a newspaper covering the most diverse city on the planet.

Still, Tabloid Wars gets at the daily, anxiety-ridden search for news journalists undertake every day -- highlighting the values and compulsions in a way that a self-conscious op-ed from New York Times editor Bill Keller could never accomplish. Bravo, guys.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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