Newspaper Wars of the Past -- The Post versus The W-J-T
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October 6, 1966, Vol. XI, No. 51
WJT, a Drugged Starter In an Unchallenging Race
By Bernard Lefkowitz
This is for all the old Post guys who once had to call Judy Garland's agent at three in the morning. Relax. Be cool. The egg creams were never better at the old candy store.
Some of the grey-faced journeymen, who long ago left their soggy coffee containers on West Street and went out into the dawn to edit newsmagazines, write books about Woodrow Wilson, and settle happily in Tangiers, might have gotten a little nervous after reading a piece that ran a few weeks ago in The Voice. The writer, Stan Fischler, was saying Kaddish for old Alma Mater. But don't worry. It's a lock. The Post will have as much trouble with the World Journal, etc., as Joe Louis had with Tony Galenta.
It all sounded very ominous. Fischler found some copyreader who said the Post "will get its head handed to it by the new paper." After talking to a few newsstand owners, delivery men, and hardware salesmen, he discovered another authoritative source who thought the Post "was like a five-foot eight-inch guy going against a six-foot-nine guy in a center jump at a basketball game." Fischler's message was clear: The Post faces "extinction"; New York has a journalistic "winner."
I think he's wrong.
Born of two losers, the World Journal Tribune -- this extension of a half-century of Hearstian flag-waving violence and the Scripps Howard habit of editing a midwestern Rotarian paper for New York City with so little of the Herald Tribune in it that it's scarcely worth mentioning -- has to be in big trouble. Dough may keep it afloat for a long, agonizing period, but no amount of money can hide the obvious -- now, less than a month after it staggered into town, the World Journal Tribune is a monumental disaster.
Two things it lacks.
A hedge here. A quick qualifier. This is no defense of the Post; you need a better lawyer than I for that. After spending four years on the Post staff -- day and night rewrite, series assignments, page pieces, a hitch on the desk -- it would be slightly hypocritical for me to defend its peculiar schizoid personality. At best, the Post is occasionally true to its liberal rhetoric. At worst, it is dishonorable.
But this is no examination of journalistic honor. Neither is it an attempt to define journalistic excellence. (Once I knew what that phrase meant, but that was in the age of innocence.) It is only a look, furtive at best, at the survival prospects of two New York afternoon papers.
In New York, where there are more Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Italians, Jews, Irish Catholics, and even WASPs than in all of Newburgh, the problem of survival has to do with finding a place, a schtick, an identity, a personality. That's what the Post has today -- a place. That's what the WJT needs more than all the typewriters at the Times.
...By far, the best survey of the New York newspaper market is conducted by the Daily News every three years. In 1964, the News found that the Post had 887,000 readers, the actual number of people who read the paper every day, not simply the number who buy it on the stands. (In a family of five adults, 10 cents is the price of admission for all.)
Every other paper in town reached into the suburbs for at least one-third of its audience. One-tenth of the Post readers were suburbanites. The Post was the only paper in town read by more women than men. About 35 per cent of the Post readers earned between $5000 and $8000 a year with another 20 per cent or so making above $10,000. And the kicker: Almost 45 per cent of the Post readers also read the News.
It is all another way of saying that many of the Post readers -- middle class, primarily Jewish, oriented toward women's news, almost exclusively urban -- share the terrors of a changing urban society so familiar to News readers: the Negro next door, the integrated school, the sudden marauder.
...What does the new newspaper offer the former Tele, Journal, and Trib readers who have made even the most tenuous investment in the 20th century?
"As a newspaper we have no commitment to any party, group, or special interest," said the first WJT editorial. "This is a new newspaper. It combines the talents and traditions of ...three great publications. But it is not a layer cake of different flavors. It is a mixture in which the readers should be able to taste familiar ingredients but which has a savor all its own."
It sounded very much like an early Hearst prospectus, say circa 1895. But very much like the early -- and late -- Hearst pronouncements of faith, there occurs a gap between prospectus and product. It is true that the World Journal Tribune has no commitment. It has half a dozen commitments. Run by a staff of reporters and editors obviously lacking youth and suffering a paralysis of the imagination, it is committed to the TERROR STALKS THE STREETS mentality of the Journal, coated with the traditional blandness so characteristic of a Scripps-Howard blat. It is also committed to luring readers with an ethnic appeal reminiscent of the Post and the Amsterdam News. Finally, it is committed to a style of newspapering guaranteed to appeal to almost no one under 65, and certain to alienate the patriot, the nervous suburbanite, and the upwardly mobile, class-conscious Negro and Jew. Is there anybody else?....
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]