East Valley Tribune gives up traditional newspaper look, goes tabloid

By Ray Stern

Guess what came to Mesa today?

No, it's not Sheriff Arpaio's Mexican supression operation--that's scheduled on Thursday.

The East Valley Tribune rolled out its new and improved look, plowing deep in tabloid territory and essentially ending--by design, anyway--a traditional-style newspaper that has published in Mesa for more than 100 years.

It's not all tabloid; the sports, Nation/World and classified sections that come tucked inside the tabloid wrap are still (somewhat incongruently) in broadsheet format. But, from now on, the paper's main look is, well, distinctly more New Times than New York Times.

The Tribune is a scrappy underdog newspaper that's been going head-to-head with the Arizona Republic in the great suburbia that exists east of Phoenix. Like every other daily newspaper in the country, the Trib struggles to hold on to a shrinking number of subscribers and is desperate to try something new. Maybe this will work. Maybe not.

One big problem is, given the competing philosophies and personalities at the paper, the Trib will have trouble deciding if it wants to be the New York Daily News or the Ahwatukee Foothills News.

As you can see from the today's front page, pictured above, the design is quite busy and crowded, compared to single-picture/big headline-oriented New York daily tabloids like the News and theNew York Post.

Like the daily New York tabs, which really are knock-offs of British tabloids like the Sun, the new and improved East Valley Tribune will want to catch attention with clever headlines and striking dominant photographs. Today's example (while cluttered) does that: The "Guess Who's Coming to Mesa?" headline recalls the racially charged 1967 movie, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" and the picture (complete with a young Hispanic man pushing an ice-cream cart) makes Mesa look a little like Tijuana.

It's all a bit snarky and irreverent, and not necessarily how your average supporter of state Representative Russell Pearce would have depicted the sheriff's latest planned round-up of Mexicans.

Tabloids aren't typically afraid to call the shots the way they see them--they need to know their audience and play right into its hands. They don't mind offending readers or being labeled sensational. They just want attention, like this famous 1983 Post cover:

But the Trib's core readership isn't made up of hip, young, intellectual yuppies raised on a steady diet of cynicism. It's older folks with moderate education levels, many of whom still haven't figured out how to get on the Internet. They like newspapers mainly because they've been reading them every morning since gas was under $1 a gallon. These folks enjoy hard news, sure, but they also want inoffensive, even corny, stories about nice people doing good things. In other words, stories that don't make good tabloid covers.

An issue is the business model that comes with this new Trib tabloid. The paper's separate Scottsdale edition went to this new format months ago, and Scottsdale residents can choose between picking up the tabloid for free (which contains most of the local news) or buying the tabloid, national news and sports section together for fifty cents. As local blogger Greg Patterson pointed out in a column last year, choosing the free version is a no-brainer.

The Republic has a similar scheme with its deathly boring tabloid community editions, but these are just sideshows for the main event. The Tribune's tack is much different, since its primary section is a tabloid. For now, the East Valley paper will only be available for a price to subscribers and news rack customers.

Whether this things flies in Mesa is anybody's guess. But from one tabloid to another: Best of luck, bro.

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