Daily News Throws Tantrum!

With its sensationalist headlines, the "People's Paper" has crossed the line between editing and editorializing

It may have been the juxtaposition that made the two headlines so jarring. There on the left of page 16 of last Friday’s Daily News was this: “Punk, 15, sent away in slaying of man, 87.” On the same page, on the right? “Thug will plead guilty in coffeehouse rape.” I sat with my cup of tea, staring, thinking, “What in the world?”

I know the Daily News’s shtick is to be gritty and mouthy. I know that when Greg Osberg brought former Philly Mag editor Larry Platt (who used to be my boss) on board, he proclaimed that Platt would make the paper “loud, irreverent and fun.” I know Platt promised in an editorial last July to engage his readers in a new way: “The relationship between newspaper and reader can no longer be a one-way lecture; it’s now a conversation.”

If it’s a conversation, why is the People’s Paper shouting at me?

Grown-up newspapers don’t editorialize in headlines. That’s the province of crap-ass fish wrap like the New York Post. It’s impossible to imagine snide, supercilious headlines like these in the New York Times—or the Inquirer, for that matter. They’re the journalistic equivalent of noogies, cheap little digs that wink at the reader and say, “You see? You see? We’re in this together. I’m on your side.”


That’s not what “news” is—or, at least, what news was, back before attitude trumped content and cleverness swamped actual reporting. There’s a serious ongoing discussion in the journalism community regarding just how far writers and editors can bend toward the beckoning flame of the Internet’s free-for-all without combusting. Recent moves by news providers to ban anonymous online commenters are attempts to take a step back from the uncivil brink. Here’s a sample of anonymous-comment rhetoric cited by the American Journalism Review as inflammatory:

“Theriot, just another Jefferson Parish politician thug mobster trained by his mentor, dressed up in a facade of respectability by a corrupt Louisiana Legislature.”

You see the problem here? The DN just stepped over that brink.

In his July editorial, Platt also made this promise: “We’re going to be the journalistic equivalent of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction: We Will Not Be Ignored.” Think about that. It’s a vow to be shrill, over-the-top, outré, pathologically relentless—to do anything, use any means necessary, to sell newspapers. It’s basically a guarantee that the Daily News will behave like a three-year-old child.

Journalism’s a cutthroat business, sure, but there are still standards. At least, there ought to be.