“Tabloid Wars”: Newspaper rivalry not much fun to watch

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
July 24, 2006

2 out of 4 stars

“Tabloid Wars,” a six-week reality series that debuts tonight, follows the staffers of the New York Daily News as they track down leads on juicy stories, finesse sources into giving them quotes and lay out pages they hope will attract more readers than those of their archenemy, the New York Post.

Filmed on location last summer, the Bravo series is full of heart and an earnest desire to show how important the newspaper business is. But as weekly entertainment, it falls short. Newspaper reporters are tenacious in their quest for the truth, and the beauty lies in their ability to take an oblique idea and flesh it out into a compelling story. But newspeople are not the most interesting subjects to watch as they do their jobs.

I’m not sure why the producers felt the need to focus on two different sets of gossip columnists when one would’ve sufficed. The most interesting thing we learn about the husband-and-wife team of George Rush and Joanna Molloy is that their office telephones are uber-filthy. Junior gossip columnist Hudson Morgan (now an associate editor at Men’s Vogue) is much more fun to watch, whether he’s hobnobbing with the beautiful people, getting shut out of parties where the main attraction is Phil Donahue or wondering out loud why people think he’s gay.

Columnist Lenore Skenazy, whose job it is to write about “intriguing oddballs” is a rather intriguing oddball herself. She has a knack for ferreting out the city’s most lovable weirdos and occasionally writes pieces full of “awwww” moments (like her column about an elderly couple who got married underwater).

Kerry Burke, a former rock critic who loathes celebrity stories, does a formidable job of finding people who don’t want to be found. Ingratiating and polite, and slightly out of touch with current slang (he refers to people as “cats”), Burke thinks nothing of going door-to-door to find a source who may make his story better. “I’m sorry to bother you,” he says to one potential witness. “Is there someone around who knows everybody?”

“Tabloid Wars” is full of factoids meant to sound important but which end up raising more questions. Viewers are told that deputy metro editor Greg Gittrich “turned down a journalism scholarship to work at the Daily News.” Huh? Are they implying that he came to the paper straight out of high school? (In fact, Gittrich graduated summa cum laude from New York University.)

Part of the problem with “Tabloid Wars” is that title. Yes, we get it that the paper is at war with the Post. But aside from talk of scooping the competition, we don’t really see a war. The few times the Daily News reporters hook up with journalists from the Post (and even the New York Times), they’re seen laughing with each other. In fact, it’s not editor in chief Michael Cooke (now vice president of editorial operations at the Sun-Times News Group) who shouts, “May Rupert Murdoch drop dead and die!” Rather, it’s an angry New Yorker ticked off by the lack of what he considers real news coverage.

Sometimes it’s better to see the end result than to see how it was made. Reading the Daily News can be fun. Watching how the stories come together? Not so much.

Local free-lance writer Jae-Ha Kim has written for the New York Daily News and the New York Post.

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