UK broadsheets have for a long time used the coverage by the tabloids of salacious, barely newsworthy stories, as an excuse to cover the same story themselves.
A good example of how this works is a story involving a UK prison guard, John Darwin, declared dead since 2003 after his mysterious disappearance in 2002 (supposedly drowned), turning up at a British police station 'fit and rested' after 5 years.
Is this front page material for the International Herald Tribune?
Apparently yes, because 'Britain's ever-alert, ever-cynical tabloids quickly dredged up some fishy details' (fishy?).
And thus the story received front page billing (1 of only 4 front page lead stories that day) on Thursday, December 6, 2007: 'Dead man walking in U.K.?'
Sara Lyall, the NYT's London correspondent is one of my favourite foreign correspondents, always with a good eye for the quirky and insightful stories from the UK that give readers an understanding of how that country ticks. But this is not one of them. It's simply a tabloid story, re-hashed and way behind the news curve (the BBC and the tabloids she referred to had been reporting the story since Tuesday) that offers no insight into the UK or a bigger picture about missing people in the UK. In fact Lyall couldn't even be bothered to find out how many people go missing in the UK each year, nor how many are ever seen again.
I am one of the biggest fans of the less heavyweight, more off-beat stories that have long been a tradition of the IHT's front page make up. But I had always been told that the point behind most of them is that they should have something to say about a wider social story.
A missing prison guard from Cleveland, England isn't such a story, especially when the story is played no differently than a UK tabloid. To insinuate that their coverage of the same story as somehow making the story front page material for the IHT is the stuff of the Daily Telegraph and The Times (London).
For UK readers of the IHT, it's a particular waste of time and space.