Up Paula’s Nose & Other Stories

As newspapers struggle to enhance their appeal to younger readers by dressing up their pages and limiting the use of words that exceed three syllables, I am filled with a growing need to help them survive.

Readers of my column may have noticed that my own strong response to the effort is to be less scholarly in my output, eliminating topics like war and the economy in favor of dating, text messaging and how to screw like a vampire.

Confusing words like ambience and environment no longer clutter my weekly essays while, on the other hand, I make good use of simpler terms such as she, it, crotch, butt and car, all of which contain a certain visual appeal to the young and the useless.

In addition to which, in a continuing effort to be a part of whas happnon (that is “what’s happening” in the slurred argot of the hip) I have assumed the slouch and cool disdain of today’s young men, wearing my pants low enough to expose half of my behind and a T-shirt emblazoned with a series of suggestions of what you can do if you don’t like it.

But that isn’t enough, I hear you cry, to save print journalism anymore than a nice dinner and good music could save the Titanic, another fine example of the cosmetic approach of form over function. Newspapers need to be generally jazzed up. The reader, or at least the newspaper buyer, has to be grabbed by the testicles, as a friend used to say, and dragged to the newsstand.

It’s a question of editorial staffs digging for the right topics and dangling them like bikini panties out of a hotel window in order to attract attention. Toward this end, the supermarket tabloids, once dismissed by the straight press as an insult to our intelligence, seem no longer all that much of an insult when one is attempting with some desperation to lengthen the life of a newspaper.

The Globe, for instance, offers a current edition almost blinding in its array of color photographs and glaring headlines, announcing inside topics with the flare of a circus barker. Some examples:

“Camilla Dumps Charles—For a Woman!”

“OBAMA’S WIFE ATTACKS OPRAH! ‘Back off! There’s only room for one First Lady in the White House.’”

“What’s up Paula Abdul’s Nose?”—(accompanied by a close-up of her nose and an arrow that points to what appears to a speck of white dust in the right nostril), with a boxed comment, in case you missed the impact, “photo shocker!”

Inside, among pictures of Mamie Van Doren’s amazing 77-year-old breasts, astrological forecasts, celebrity styles and a “new book bombshell” about the late Sammy Davis Jr.’s dope-fed sexual madness, we get to the stories alluded to on the tabloid’s cover page, all of which are presented in garish patterns of red, blue and gold and headlines that continue to scream their accusations, except that now they are followed by small, barely noticeable boxes: “Insiders say.”

In other words, if the report isn’t true, it isn’t the fault of the Globe but of the lying insiders who betrayed the trust of the editors by feeding them misinformation. Oh, well, it happens. The name of the insider, by the way, is protected by newspaper tradition and by various extended shield laws that embrace us like a mother’s cuddling arms.

While today’s struggling newspapers offer occasional bells and whistles in their effort to appeal to those who don’t read newspapers it won’t be long before they realize their pathetic efforts at redesign aren’t working and begin taking lessons from the supermarket tabloids.

One can imagine typical headlines: “Oprah in Line for Cabinet Job!” “Bill Clinton Joins Monastery!!!” “Brad Pitt Pregnant!”—subhead, “How he did it.” And finally, “Katie Couric and Sarah Palin to wed! Jesse Jackson to Perform Rites in Ketchikan!”

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Open the pages and one will find considerably less than promised by the headlines. In fact, there is really no crying need to have a story at all unless it’s a play on words—Bill Clinton, for example, actually joining a monastery to raise money for organizations in need of funds to pay him for speaking at their annual fund raising events. He feels their pain.

Insiders say.

Al Martinez
Al Martinez on Everything Else

Al Martinez is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Los Angeles Times, author of a dozen books, an Emmy-nominated creator of prime time television shows, a travel writer, humorist and general hell-raiser. Try him. He’s addictive.

Republished with permission.

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