Sunday, March 18, 2007

Crime trumps traffic: the Post-tabloidization of the Courier-Life tabloid

Yesterday, I picked up my copy of the Park Slope Courier, part of the Courier-Life chain, and looked for any mention of the proposed traffic changes that have the neighborhood up in arms. There was no coverage of concerns or a preview of the Community Board Transportation Committee meeting Thursday (which occurred past the paper's deadline). So much for the "Your Neighborhood -- Your News" slogan.

The front page stories concerned a Park Slope man stabbed in Manhattan last weekend, a local teen who needs a transplant, and a local man convicted of molestation. Crime--and human interest--but not "our news." Oh, let's not forget--a banner advertising "The Boro's ultimate classifieds" and "16 pages of SmartSource coupons."

The latter is the result of the chain's sale last September, when the longtime family owners accepted an offer from Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. , which owns the New York Post. In the process, the Courier-Life has actually gotten worse.

It's always had weaknesses--it's less aggressive than the rival Brooklyn Paper in covering Brooklyn's neighborhoods, and co-publisher Dan Holt's chairing of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce raises questions, as the Brooklyn Paper has noted, about the paper's coziness to Brooklyn's establishment.

But it also has covered a good range of stories, and put important ones on the front page. Last week, however, the Courier-Life cover stories concerned a Prospect Heights man who has threatened Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, a new playground for a local school, and photo of a cute kid.

There was some more substantial news inside the paper. The traffic controversy got three paragraphs, at the end of an article about traffic calming on Third Avenue, with no mention of Park Slope concerns in the headline.

Looking for local news

The Brooklyn Paper has its flaws, including its own tabloid tendencies, but it's been on top of the traffic story, offering front-page coverage two straight weeks on the traffic plan. The Brooklyn Paper even covered the Thursday hearing online.

(Of course, several journalists using blogs provided faster and more substantial coverage, but the Brooklyn Paper left the Courier-Life in the dust on that one. And the Brooklyn Paper was the only outlet to offer video.)

On Thursday, I did see a photographer who contributes to the Courier-Life at the meeting, so maybe we'll see some coverage next week. Still, anyone who thinks that "GUNNING FOR KELLY" and "SHOCK OVER SLAYING" are the big news headlines in Park Slope has been spending too much time in tabloid-land.

Let's not forget the February 2 issue. The front-page headlines were "SEX FIENDS & OUR KIDS" and "Hundreds vie for glory in shopping cart race." Inside were "City doubles down on Atlantic Yards project" and "New vision for Gowanus: Rezoning plan underway."

Note: I've exempted from comparison the Brooklyn Downtown Star, to which I contribute. While it offers some substantial coverage (and more space than the other weeklies), it [clarification] is is part of a chain with only two editions aimed at Brooklyn (including the Greenpoint Star), while the above weeklies have multiple neighborhood editions. Like the Brooklyn Paper, the Downtown Star is family-owned, part of the Queens Ledger chain.

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