So it really happened. While this reporter was conveniently out of town, basking in the warm September rain, the Herald American really did go out and transform itself overnight into what seemed a veritable classic of the breezy, entertaining, provocative, and populist tabloid-newspaper genre.
It was all there as (more or less) promised – and then some – on that momentous Sunday the 13th. A “Crime Beat” page, dammit. Four full pages of various views (“Our,” “Their,” and of course “Your” views). “The Week That Was,” a full page of, well, news satire that is sometimes even funny. Issue number one of Celebrity, a slick magazine celebrating Faye Dunaway’s thoughts on the filming of Mommie Dearest. (A coup: an interview with a celeb who’s portraying a celeb in a tacky film. What could be better?) Plus contests galore. Plus Bianca Jagger’s tips on staying young-looking in the new Woman ’81 mag. Plus a classic front-page tab headline: GOV. KING ON CASINO GAMBLING: ‘OVER MY DEAD BODY.’ All this and more, including lots of short punchy, but downright serious stuff that had been stockpiled for weeks. An expose about Attorney General Frank Belotti’s daughter getting a no-bid contract to run the UMass cafeteria in Park Square and preparing food therein for her own Government Center sidewalk eatery. A serious centerfold photo spread involving the sad tale of the Revere woman whose $25,000 home-repair loan resulted in unfinished work and a house torn asunder. The story of the “twice victimized” rape victim whose trauma was made worse by the judicial system. The “Dad gets revenge” account of a Southie father who shot the two guys who had allegedly mugged his daughter.
It was the right stuff, all right, though I must confess it was mostly all that “fun” stuff to which my vacationing friends and I were strangely attracted. And there’s not a single overt TV addict or celebrity-sniffer among us. “It’s a hit!” we exclaimed in unison.
Or, as Herald political columnist Peter Lucas observed, while guest-hosting the David Brudnoy radio talkathon the following night, this new, improved, attractive and intriguing tabloid was at first blush “awesome.” It was indeed, despite the “one-issue” Herald readers phoning in to complain that they couldn’t find “Marmaduke,” the cartoon dog (moved to classifieds, surprisingly fat with upscale real-estate ads), or complaining that the paper suddenly contained too many ads, for God’s sake. (Seeing those tab pages suddenly overflowing with display ads, after all, is high on the list of “awesome,” if possibly temporary, changes for the better.)
People are reading the Herald on the subway now. And saying nice things about it. It’s different. It’s easy to read. It’s convenient. It’s cute. And it could be terrific, though it isn’t yet. And, hell, much as I pretend to object to the arbitrary shortness of all those little news stories, I find myself reading it from beginning to end and carrying it around (feeling “intimate” with it), just as Herald ad director Robert Lange had assured potential advertisers the typical tabloid reader would. Though the proverbial jury is still out, and despite persistent production and delivery problems, an extra 80,000 papers have been added to the Herald’s press run. Some of those presumably are being sold.