New York tabloids fight to survive, and it’s all about sports

Alan Truex

NEW YORK –  No city is more fond of newspapers than this one.  The country’s three largest metropolitan dailies are here: The New York Times, Post and Daily News.  It used to be that within a few feet of every midtown subway entrance there was a shabby wooden stall with a man selling magazines and newspapers.

Now the newsstands are few, with print circulation in decline here and everywhere.  But newspapers, especially tabloids, compact, easy-to-flip-through, are suited to the underground railroad, where digital reception is spotty.

The Post typically has more than 20 pages of sports – about a third of its total space.  The Daily News is almost as sports-minded.  Both papers are, shocking to the eyes of heartland America, more biased in their coverage of politics than in their often self-loathing accounts of athletic performance.  The Post, owned by Fox patriarch Rupert Murdoch, is reliably right-wing with the Daily News tilting increasingly leftward, as evidenced by two recent front-page headlines.


The Daily News, after the Pulse night-club slaughter: “THANKS, NRA.”

Objectivity poses at the Times, though the public issues the Grey Lady prefers to report – sinful soda, sweating polar bears, the frigging fracking oil companies — tend to interest the left more than the right.

In sports coverage the Times has returned to the 1970s, when it considered yacht racing more worthy of attention than football.  The paper often did not staff Mets, Knicks and Rangers road games.  I know, because I corresponded for the Times when New York teams were in Atlanta.

Murray Chass, retired Times ball writer, laments that his former employers now assign “articles about cup stacking, beach volleyball, duckpin bowling, golf and tennis more than baseball.”

The Times has forever been devoted to horse racing.  And since 1998 Joe Drape has provided elegant, incisive commentary on the sport.  But in the past 2-3 years the Times has cut down on the horse play, following scandals involving alleged doping and mistreatment of animals.

Thanks, Steve Asmussen, who trained Creator, winner of the recent and nearby Belmont Stakes. Asmussen’s Hall of Fame induction was postponed when his barn was tainted by evidence linking horses to PEDs.  By now, surely every cheating horse trainer – or not – knows that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is a news outlet.

As much as we sports-news lovers decry the shifting Times, this behemoth continues to dwarf the other media giants in size, reach and influence.   The company is losing money (netting -$14 million for the 2016 first quarter), but it’s rapidly gaining on-line subscriptions (currently 1.2 digital-only).  Ultimately that’s likely to offset the tumbling revenues from print advertising.

Meanwhile, the News and Post, each with circulation exceeding a half-million, duel for the sports fan, whom they see as the key demographic.   Their stories are sharply written, though the News sports staff now shares its star, Mike Lupica, with the political side, where he joins the assault on guns, especially assault guns.

The News and Post are among Manhattan’s few bargains, costing just a dollar, and for my money the best of its sports scribes is Joel Sherman.  As Ichiro Suzuki neared the hit milestone of Pete Rose, the Post columnist contrasted “Baryshnikov grace” and “lunch-pail frenzy” and poignantly described a workout by Suzuki in an empty spring-training ballpark, how he “pantomimed his swing and then raced at pretty much full clip to each base . . . a genius not squandering his skills – Mozart playing his piano alone.”

As easy as Sherman or Lupica make it seem, this is a trying time for sports writers in Gotham.  All its teams are pretty bad, with the possible exception of the Mets.  The defending National League champs felt a stinging back-side swat from The Post: “CITI SNICKERS.”   In slightly smaller type was reference to the “joke of an offense.”  And now there’s concern about the pitching, with Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz each growing a spur on the elbow.

In the Bronx the fabled Yankees battle for .500, trying to draw to an inside straight for a wild card. 

Their best player, 39-year-old Carlos Beltran, has a puffy left knee and a thoroughly braced right one.  Hal Steinbrenner, not the free-spender his dad was, won’t bring in a megastar to save the season.  More likely Hal goes the opposite way, trading Beltran for prospects to stock a farm that’s not exactly blooming.

King Football approaches with the Giants and Jets on the wrong side of their peaks.  The Gints, as their name is compressed in tabloid headlines, are stationing Eli Manning, 35, behind an offensive line that as usual is missing a left tackle.

The Jets desperately need another elite season from receiver Brandon Marshall, who’s 32.   They lost their Pro Bowl running back, Chris Ivory, to free agency, and they still haven’t signed a quarterback.  Their No. 2 receiver, Eric Decker, warned that if Ryan Fitzpatrick is in limbo when training camp opens, there will be “distractions” and “issues we don’t need to have.”

As for the NBA, last week’s draft was important everywhere but here, with the Knicks having no picks in it.  But Phil Jackson, who usually does little and says less, created talking points by trading for the once great Derrick Rose and promising to go all out for the still great Kevin Durant.   Dr. Phil admits that’s a long shot, but a better bet is that he signs Rose’s former teammate, the also fragile Joakim Noah.

This is among a handful of U.S. cities – Philly, Pittsburgh, Boston, Chicago, Detroit — that regard hockey as a major sport.  But I detect no Ranger buzz.  Knocked out of the postseason in five games, with 11 players over 30, the Blueshirts aren’t due for a Stanley Cup for another 20 years.

So despite vast resources the city’s teams take a collective step back.   I’m not sure New Yorkers mind all that much, though bean counters at the Post and News can’t be pleased.  There’s Hamilton on Broadway, lots of fine $14 movies throughout the island, and a Vikings exhibit at Times Square, where you learn, among many other things, that their helmets did not have horns.  Someone needs to tell Minnesota.

Once a week or so there’s a big-name free concert at Rockefeller Center and every day limitless entertainment to write about.  And still the tabloids – maybe this is where they take their last stand — keep pouring disproportionate barrels of ink into sports.

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