Thursday: 06/27/02

American Tabloid
A few months ago the National Enquirer actually devoted its cover to the Enron scandal and ever since I've been wishing that a national news tabloid existed -- you know, something closer to the New York Post than the Enquirer, with the same kind of distribution and scope as USA Today

In a way, you could say that's what the Drudge Report is, but the Drudge Report pretty much exists only on a headline level. Plus, it's not print, and at least half the appeal of a good tabloid is its visual punch.

So far, most efforts to approximate a tabloid visual style online haven't been very successful -- what's so effective in print (bold-faced headlines, busy layouts, etc.) doesn't quite translate to the Web. In print, the visual jumble works because there's really not much to decode: there may be five different headlines and five different photos on the front of the print version of the National Enquirer, but your next step is always going to be the same: you're going to turn a page. Maybe you'll jump to page 2, maybe to page 17, but the consequences of that action will always be the same: you'll be presented with more static information to digest. Because the functionality of a one-section print tabloid (or magazine) is so simple, its interface can afford to be visually complex. On the Web, however, each of those visual elements may actually be a hyper-link, and each of those hyper-links may initiate different functionality: they could take you to an article, a series of photos, a poll, an audio or video stream, another menu of choices, etc. The cover of the print version of the National Enquirer is a masterpiece of eye-catching, attention-getting design; the homepage of web version of the National Enquirer is an ugly, confusing jumble.

All of which is to say that the best place for a tabloid is print -- and why isn't there a national news tabloid that covers business, politics, technology, and all the other subjects that the Enquirer and the other supermarket tabloids rarely touch?

According to a recent article in the Post, a new supermarket tabloid called Justice is in the offing: it will focus on crime and court proceedings and feature columnists like Marcia Clark; its publishers are promising an initial rate base of 250,000.

A crime tabloid sounds like a great idea -- alas, recent efforts haven't worked. Some time in the last five to ten years, I remember seeing a crime tabloid on the check-out racks at my local Safeway for a few months. I think it was simply called Crime, it seemed to disappear after only a few issues, and it made such an impact that I wasn't able to find any information about it on the web. also disappeared quickly, but at least it left a few bones for morbid curiosity-seekers to examine.

But who knows? Maybe Justice will prevail. After all, crime is to journalism what porn is to online entertainment -- the surest bet there is. In this era of chronic editorial downsizing, where only unemployed ex-Rolling Stone editors are presumed to have the time to read 5000-word features, crime is the one subject that can still routinely command five-plus pages in a glossy magazine without involving celebrity nudity of any kind.

I can't imagine anyone's really dying to read Marcia Clarke's thoughts on the Winona Ryder trial or whatever, but if Justice hires some actual writers and journalists and turns them loose to file vivid, muck-raking accounts of crime and corruption, then maybe it would actually have a shot at transcending the prissy moralism of its name. A good national crime tabloid probably won't be quite as interesting as a good national news tabloid would be, but at least it's a step in the right direction.

-- G. Beato

Thursday: 06/20/02

The Soundbitten Network
Not content to produce just one oft-neglected website, I created Cooking With Bigfoot approximately one year ago. Not content to produce just two oft-neglected websites, I now introduce Prank-O-Rama. If all goes according to plan, a fourth website will soon follow. Together, these four entities will comprise The Soundbitten Network. Please do your part by visiting each site frequently, even if I don't always update them that often. Thanks!

-- G. Beato

Selected reruns:
The Glenn Reynolds Story
All the News That's Fit to Excerpt

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