It was already one of those days. President Trump was stepping on sore toes around the world. And when I walked out of Penn Station into the cacophony of honking cars and rushing pedestrians in Manhattan, a taxi almost ran me over. The driver barked at me something that I can not repeat here. That did not make my mood better. My eyes fell on the newspaper kiosk piled with the latest issue of the Daily News. The headline that blared on the front page perfectly summarized my situation and just about everyone else’s: “TRUMP TO WORLD: DROP DEAD.”
This was an echo of the famous 1975 headline when President Ford decided not to bail out the financially struggling New York City. The Daily News summarized it pithily and immortally as: “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.”
We all know the New York Times as “the good gray lady,” perhaps the best newspaper in the world. It is a daily smorgasbord of news from all corners of the globe. The voice of the Times is distant, magisterial, open-minded, with an eye for nuance. In short, it’s a voice that’s nothing like the gritty sounds the city of New York really makes.
The Daily News, as with its rival tabloid the New York Post, catches the voice of the typical New Yorker — raw, unsophisticated, coarse, but often striking and full of abrasive humor. Where the Times primly sniffs it has “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” these two tabloids print everything that is unsuitable: gossip, scandals, gore, and character assassinations. The front pages — the “wood,” in tabloid lingo — shout from every newsstand. They are an art form that consists of a single bold headline plus a powerful photo. The fact that they take exactly the opposite political positions — the Post pro-Trump and the News against Trump — only makes it more fun.
Some bare-knuckle anti-Trump barbs from the Daily News are already legendary: “CLOWN RUNS FOR PREZ,” “PEE BRAIN.” After the summit with Putin in Helsinki there was a drawing in which Trump shot Uncle Sam in the middle of the street with the headline “OPEN TREASON.” The Post set a high standard of its own in 1983 with its unflinching, gotta-read banner, “HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR.”
But, unfortunately, these brash, real-world voices are under siege. Last month the Daily News laid off half its staff. Its readership has dropped from two million to two hundred thousand, barely enough to survive. The typical New Yorker no longer reads any newspapers.
The shrinking of local newspapers in the United States is a tragedy. Since the 1980s, the number of readers has been halved nationally, as has the number of journalists. In middle-sized cities like Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, and Detroit, newspapers have drastically shrunk or even shut down. The smaller community papers, like the one you are holding, somehow hang in there.
The result is a map littered with “news deserts” where citizens hardly have any insight into local issues or even share a common set of facts. There are no reporters available to attend endless board meetings or cover minority communities. Handy for politicians, but bad for voters. The saddest thing is that there is no room left for all the human stories that live in a city. The unnoticed suffering, the unexpected poetry, the annoyance and frustration. Newspapers will report on the world economy or sports events, but not about the ice cream shop around the corner, the corrupt alderman, the delayed bus line, or the unexpected kindness of a stranger.
And sometimes you just want to hear the raw, unfiltered voice of your own. Like mine to the taxi driver: “PIA TO CABBIE: DROP DEAD.”
Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. Her memoir, “Saving Charlotte,” was published by W.W. Norton in 2017. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is filling in for Richard K. Rein, who is on his self-proclaimed “customary” summer break.