By Arthur H. Gunther III
It used to be that the smog from coal furnaces and smokestack industry defined cities, along with dark alleys and film noir scenes, but with the urban renaissance, things are now much more in vibrant color rather than black and white. There has always been the upbeat, of course, and it’s just perspective that is in cyclical renewal. The glass half-full or half-empty thing.
Yet one constant has always defined Gotham — our New York City — or most cities, overseas included: the tabloid newspaper. Want to see pictures and read stories about murder, mayhem, social oddities, the fellow who feeds pigeons off a tenement rooftop, the Damon Runyonesque characters who are the heartbeat of cities? Read the tabs.
While the New York Times (or the other broadsheets, of which there are fewer and fewer as readership declines in a digital age) report on government and politics, finance, social issues of import and investigative matters, it is the tabloid that takes from the fast current which is the urban stream of life.
Even today, with many immersed in smartphones or tablets, you’ll find tab readers on the subway, in city parks, at the lunch counter, eager to catch the grisly murder (New York Post: “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” or gossip/social news: “Lady is a Trump,” another Post headline, telling readers about Donald’s Trump’s third marriage. You don’t find those headlines in a broadsheet.
And then there’s the comical. Last week, New York City’s two remaining tabloids, the Post and the Daily News, each reported on an unusual 311 hotline complaint. (The hotline is the city’s “main source of government information and non-emergency services”.) Seems 311 has been called numerous times by apartment house dwellers who can’t sleep or otherwise enjoy quality of living because their neighbors make too much noise while having sex. Honestly, that was the substance of 311 calls, with the most complaints coming from Brooklyn and lesser numbers from Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan. None from Staten Island, though, which might bear a separate investigation.
That people might actually call a government hotline over a personal matter which they could handle by a simple knock on the neighbor’s door perhaps speaks to classic urban anonymity and chutzpah. That tabloids report such news in a front-page story is also classic, highly so. (“This Couple Has there Loudest Sex in NYC,” the Post.)
Ah, cities never sleep (some people, obviously). Nor do the tabs. Bless ’em. They report on the slices of life that show foibles to faux pas to the fantastic to the familiar.
The writer is retired newspaperman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org This essay may be reproduced.