NY Papers’ Birthdays Celebrated Very Differently

By: Joe Strupp

Call them the Felix and Oscar of New York newspapers. One odd couple that would never buddy-up where news coverage is concerned, but who together fill the needs of New Yorkers from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

This week they each celebrated very important anniversaries in very different ways. The New York Times, still nicknamed “The Gray Lady” despite having color for years, remains the paper of record and the one to beat for national and foreign news. Its near-royalty status among politicians, society types, and intellectuals keeps the Times‘ image as queen of high-brow newspaperdom intact as it moves into its 151st year.

Across town, the older New York Post flaunts an entirely different reputation. Tabloid, both in form and substance, the Post revels in its image as the scandal-seeking, gritty, street-smart paper that mixes conservative politics with a blatant appetite for all things salacious. Acknowledging a 200th birthday on Friday, the paper launched by Alexander Hamilton in 1801 beamed with pride over its status as a must-read for gossip-mongers, rumor-followers, and many hard-core sports fans.

For New Yorkers, and, to a degree, newspaper readers across the nation, the Times and the Post are living examples of the diversity that newspapers can provide. They illustrate the creed that not every newspaper need serve every reader in the same way — that journalism means not only offering readers the who, what, where, when, and why, but also answering those questions with a variety of sources and through differing opinions.

At a time when most cities have just one newspaper, and others are feeling the constraints of joint operating agreements and financial cutbacks, the options that New York’s four major daily papers provide — with the Times and Post representing the polar opposites of these choices — become more and more important. Those differences were never more evident than in the special sections each paper published this week to acknowledge their milestone birthdays.

For the Times, which actually turned 150 on Sept. 18 but delayed its self-tribute for two months because of the World Trade Center attack, the birthday card came in the form of a 56-page spread in Wednesday’ editions. The two-section collection offers a timeline of the paper’s history, memories from legendary alumni such as David Halberstam and Anna Quindlen, and toasts to the paper’s coverage of historical events such as the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations, Nixon’s resignation, and military conflicts from the Civil War to Afghanistan.

The paper’s well-known influence also is acknowledged with reprints of editorials on subjects ranging from Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation to the Supreme Court’s ruling last year that effectively stopped the Florida presidential recount. In addition, readers were reminded of the Times‘ reputation for producing quality writers, historical photos, and, of course, a crossword puzzle that has become the standard for word games. “We respect our irreplaceable institution and the irreplaceable bond of trust with our readers,” Executive Editor Howell Raines writes in an introduction to the section. “We still don’t believe that the tastelessly vulgar belongs in our columns.”

Two days later, the Post blew out its birthday candles with a 68-page pullout that included a reprint of its first edition — all four broadsheet pages from Nov. 16, 1801. Unlike the Times‘ focus on world events, democratic causes, and literary achievements, the Post celebrated its history of crime and corruption reporting, eye-popping headlines, and of course, gossip.

Looking back on its coverage of stories such as the 1950’s quiz show scandals, the 1970’s Son of Sam killings, and the 1980’s preppie murder trial, Post editors and writers reminded readers why they read the tabloid — to get an offbeat, rough-and-tumble, and very opinionated coverage of the news. “The Post has consistently faced down the dominant ideology of the day,” writer Steve Cuozzo brags in a tribute to its wild headlines. “If you could round up all its editors in a room together, what a brawl it would be.”

While the Times‘ reminisced about its ownership of a classical music station and attention to Broadway culture over the years, the Post‘s Mary Huhn recalled early coverage of The Ramones and an emerging form of music known as punk rock.

Post readers also were treated to a review of the paper’s role in forging today’s gossip columns and its celebration of headlines, including results of an online poll that asked readers for their favorite Post headline of all time. You guessed it, the April 15, 1983 edition that proclaimed “Headless Body In Topless Bar” took the prize.

The two papers’ anniversaries not only celebrate their long histories, but also the joy that they provide Big Apple readers, whether they need to know the latest on George Bush, George Clooney, or George Steinbrenner.

The papers are also celebrating their birthdays online:

New York Post: http://www.nypost.com/200years/200yearshome1.htm

The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/specials/150/index.html

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