It was tough for me to write that headline and I’m going through a bit of a mourning period over it. Tomorrow morning, as on each weekday morning since July 4th, when I get to my neighborhood newsstand, I won’t be buying TWO New York City tabloids. Except for the Sunday edition, the New York Daily News sports section will no longer be part of my life.
You see, I have been a religious reader of the two New York tabloids for almost 50 years; pretty much ever since I became a devout baseball fan at 6 years old. My father bought the News and the New York Post every day (in the ’60s and ’70s the Post was an afternoon paper and the News also had a “Night Owl” edition) and he encouraged me to devour the back pages, which is probably why I wanted to become a magazine sports writer. Some kids grow up playing catch with their dads. I did that, too, but my dad and I also threw good paragraphs back and forth at each other. “Dad, you won’t believe what Dick Young wrote in “Clubhouse Confidential,” I’d exclaim. “Steve, Larry Merchant’s Post column is a riot today,” he’d tell me. And we’d both have a great laugh over the latest Bill Gallo cartoon, usually drawn around some craziness with Casey Stengel and Basement Bertha.
So going to the corner candy store or bodega the first thing in the morning to pick up the tabloids has been a daily, life-long ritual. I’ve been so addicted that when in another city on a vacation or for work, I’d go through withdrawal if I couldn’t find a Post or a News at some local newsstand or bookstore. And as much as I love the internet and can web-surf with the best of them (hell, I’m writing for this site, aren’t I?), I’m just not satisfied reading a newspaper online. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but I still think there is nothing like the enjoyment of holding a newspaper in your hands and flipping through the pages at your leisure and scanning the spreads filled with headlines and photos and box scores and sidebars and agate type. A web paper is great for catching up on late-breaking news or reading someone’s blog, but it can never replace–at least for me–the tactile thrill of fondling news print.
But something happened in late June that will change my life. The price of the daily New York Post went from 50 to 75 cents and I knew it was just a matter of time before the Daily News followed suit, which it did on July 4th. I was not looking for an independence day from buying the tabloids but that’s effectively what resulted from their price hikes. While I had long ago come to grips with the $1.25 price for the Sunday papers, I had already been disgusted with paying 75 cents for the skimpy Saturday papers, which are now a ridiculous buck apiece. This latest daily paper price hike raised my blood pressure higher than when I watch Mike Pelfrey pitch. Now I had to make a choice. I could never give up both papers cold turkey, so one of them had to go. I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, buddy, it’s just another 25 cents a day, what’s the big deal?” Well, if you eliminate one paper from your budget, you’re saving $195 a year and in this economy that’s not chump change, pal.
If the decision to give up reading one of the dailies was difficult, the choice of which one to drop was easy. R.I.P. Daily News, at least in my house. Let’s face it, this paper has been a prosaic read for years and when the Post refers to it as “The Daily Snooze” they are right on the money. The Post sports section has consistently been the best in town since the days of Merchant and Vic Ziegel and Paul Zimmerman and Maury Allen and Leonard Shecter, et al (Google ‘em, kids). The News has been on a quality roller-coaster since the early ’80s when I wrote a series for The Village Voice called “The Good, the Bad and the Boring,” which critiqued all the New York sport sections (including the Times‘). At that time, the News was the “bad.” When I asked the late, great Vic Ziegel, who was between newspaper gigs at the time, to tell me why the Post, with it’s reputation for sensationalism (even pre-Murdoch) and fudging stories, should be considered better than the News, Ziegel said, “I’d rather have my sports section bullshit me than bore me.” As much as I would find it appalling for any news organization to BS its readers, I found it difficult arguing Vic’s point.
The News‘ sports is definitely not the mundane section it was in the ’80s, but it’s inferior to the Post in almost every way, from the back page headlines (even when both papers come up with the same hilarious line, you believe the Post thought of it first) to the presentation of the inside pages (the News has shrunk its body type font so much to save money on paper, you need a 150+ pair of reading glasses). Heck, these days, I even find the Wall Street Journal’s measly two to three pages of sports coverage more compelling then what the News serves up. And when the most entertaining talkie on an SNY-TV show named for your paper is the guy from WFAN (Joe Benigno), you’re in trouble.
The News stuffs the Post on basketball coverage with the solid Frank Isola and Mitch Lawrence, but I favor them mainly because I’ve never been a fan of Peter Vescey’s convoluted column-writing style that poses as conversational. And the News investigative reporting and feature writing team (including Wayne Coffey, Christian Red, Michael O’Keefe, et al) is top notch, which is why I will continue to buy the paper on Sunday. But the Post wins almost every other key writer match-up. Post media columnist Phil Mushnick may have gotten a tad pompous and strident over the years, but he’s still a better read than the pedestrian Bob Raissman (who has actually improved from the borderline hack he was earlier in his career). Comparing the Post‘s hockey writers Larry Brooks (who also does a fine job as a baseball columnist) and Mark Everson to the News‘ guys is the difference between a slap shot and a shank. As for coverage of the NFL, it’s not even a contest. The News‘ pro football team is like a Pop Warner defensive line going up against Nick Mangold and company.
On the baseball side, while the News‘ Bill Madden and John Harper deserve their due as solid veteran pros, Joel Sherman’s well-crafted columns in the Post are consistently insightful and speak the inside baseball language to the hard-core fan. Among the baseball beat writers, I’d probably call that “even,” but I’m getting increasing impatient with the News‘ Mets writer Andy Martino–a young scribe with terrific potential–trying to be quirky and cute in his game stories.
The columnist match-up is a huge edge to the Post, from superior utility man/football maven/Sunday Q & A interrogator Steve Serby, to the aforementioned Sherman, to the exquisite Mike Vaccaro, who has become the best sports columnist in the city and could hold his own with the great Post writers of the ’60s. Vaccaro is where Mike Lupica was around three decades ago when Lupica was the News‘ Boy Wonder. But Lupica has been mailing in his sports column since the Pony Express was put out to pasture. “The Lip” has been shooting blanks for years, but it’s tough to keep a sports column on target when the higher priorities are writing tweener sports novels, opining about politics in the front of the paper (thank goodness he’s a liberal or I’d really lose it), and doing television and radio for ESPN.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I currently work full time in ad sales for a family of community newspapers owned by News Corp. (which owns the Post). But believe me, if the Post sports section wasn’t worth the newsprint it was written on, I’d hammer them as well. Besides, if Rupert Murdoch either decides to, or is forced to, unload his newspapers because of the recent scandal in his media empire, who knows if the Post sports section will be worth 75 cents a day anymore? I might have to really blow my budget to hell and buy the Times on days other than Sunday. Where’s Red Smith when you need him? (Google him, too.)