While a recent bid by Rupert Murdoch to buy the once venerable Tribune flagship Los Angeles Times has drawn the ire and ridicule of everyone from staffers across the Tribune family, to the FCC to Jon Stewart, one thing can be said for sure, regardless of the journalistic merit of other Murdoch-owned media, you know it when you are reading a NewsCorp property. Idiosyncratic as hell and usually at least more entertaining (while being less informative), even the stodgy old Wall Street Journal received the equivalent of a playful fanny slap when receiving the Murdoch makeover.
That being said, it got me thinking about what possible role does the daily newspaper still play in daily life as it has stood watching nearly every other traditional content distributor (book stores, music shops, video stores) head to that great obituary column in the sky. After all, what does the newspaper give you the next day that the Internet can’t give you in real time?
A recent trip to New York reunited me with one of the great loves of my childhood, the (now) Murdoch- owned New York Post. That was the paper my father tiredly passed us after his long day at one bathing suit factory or another in the city and an even longer ride on the commuter bus back to suburbia afterward. And for me, the New York Post fails to disappoint. Always reading back to front, I reveled in the seemingly endless sport section filled with a smidge of sports and a mountain of speculative gossip. (who could forget the Fritz Peterson-Mike Kekich wife swap of 1969, or the Derek Jeter-in-his-third tri-mester photo that made news this spring) I loved Page Six and its’ takedown of local NY celebs in awkward and ugly situations; Word Power (a scrambled word challenge), the “Last Night” column with Earl Wilson, who made you feel like you were out at Sardi’s with him. And of course, the gruesome murder stories (Son Of Sam), the endless unmasking of corrupt New York politics and the pun-tastic headlines (Osama Bin Wankin – porn found in Laden’s Whora Bora foxhole).
Forty years later, all of this “Headless Body In A Topless Bar” word-smithing is still alive at the Post. In a city where three newspapers are fighting over a shrinking audience where most other cities (including LA) can barely support one, the Post is part salacious gossip, part chummy sports know-it-all and full- time stand-up comic. While the over wrought journalese may not bag a Pulitzer anytime soon, credit must be given to a style that can put a bawdy twist (or any twist for that matter) to what little “new” information can be gleaned from day old stories in our modern age.
And I think that’s the secret to what little time is left for the printed page. With nothing new to report, perhaps the key is to make your view on day old news a unique voice that speaks to your geography. Los Angeles citizens have always been tight-lipped about the reporting of its’ own coke-fueled, Sunset Strip tranny-hooker, Entourage-esque culture, but I bet five conigliaros that if Rupert Murdoch did get his Aussie paws on the Times, he might unearth what that LA culture might look like. And perhaps the Los Angeles Times, in whatever crazy tabloid infotainment gossip rag it morphs into, will whistle past the graveyard. For now.