How America’s Oldest Newspaper Cheated Death and Why It Matters
by Stephen D. Cuozzo , Times Books, 332 pages, $25.00 . CODE: RAN-41
THE IMPLAUSIBLY LONG-LIVED New York Post dates to 1801, the year its founder, Alexander Hamilton, helped defeat Aaron Burr’s presidential hopes and three years before Burr, in turn, killed Hamilton in a duel. Not everyone would see a direct line between Hamilton’s political passions and headlines like 500-POUND SEX MONSTER GOES FREE , but Stephen Cuozzo, the Post ’s current executive editor, makes a lucid and entertaining case in this oldfashioned newspapering memoir. He credits the Post with capturing the energy of the city it covers and creating a national trend toward tabloidization in news generally, a movement whose vigor he finds healthy overall. Along the way he tells his own story of climbing the masthead in twenty years, from copy boy on Dorothy Schiffs liberal Post to executive editor of today’s conservative paper. He blames elitism and a lack of cheery advertising appeal, more than suburbanization or television, for the decline of tabloids in the sixties. But he’s better when he’s telling about the characters he apprenticed under at the Post ’s South Street headquarters, where he acquired the touch for the paper’s famously hyperbolic headlines: “Mel taught me well. We had a story about weirdo cultists who kept a dead body in an apartment. The stink drew the neighbors’ attention. I came up with DOWN THE HALL, SOMETHING EERIE .‘That’s niiiiice,’ Mel said.”
Cuozzo lived through the newspaper wars of the late seventies, beginning with the tabloid one-upmanship over the 1977 Son of Sam murder case and continued the next year when the Daily News launched its own, competing afternoon , edition, “Tonight.” The endangered Post prevailed and even gained readers. The book ends with the exhilarating days of 1993, when would-be owners vied for the Post before a bankruptcy judge —and rogue editors and press operators kept the paper going even after it had been legally closed down. The cast includes the Post ’s strange gallery of owners, from the Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch to the “parking garage king” Abe Hirschfeld, known for publicly spitting on his enemies. It’s Alive! is a tough, affectionate book.