‘Blood mingled with marinara sauce’: Philadelphia mob story

Posted in journalism trends, LAT, media, recession by Diane on February 3, 2010

Don’t get me wrong, I love L.A. A walk or run on the Hermosa sand always reminds me how lucky I am to live here.

But sometimes I miss the East Coast tabloids I knew and loved in my twenties. New York had its broadly populist tabloid papers, but my true fave was the Philadelphia Daily News. As vibrant and lean as the Inky was staid and self-important, the Daily News was gritty, well reported and a heckuva lot more fun.

Even when it was chronicling mob rubouts or other mayhem in the City of Brotherly Love.

My favorite? A front page story about one rubout, complete with stark photo and description of the murder scene, where “the blood mingled with marinara sauce.” Another story mapped previous rubouts around the city in piquant detail. I reveled reading those passages aloud to my more squeamish coworkers.

Back then, rumor had it, Knight Ridder was propping up the Daily News to discourage another daily from taking on its dominant sibling. (The Inky’s last big competitor, the Evening Bulletin, had shuttered earlier in the decade.) The owners cut back on distribution, making it harder for me to snag a copy on my way to work; oh, how I cursed them for that.

Alas, L.A. had nothing like it when I moved here; the Herald-Examiner was already gone, and the L.A. Times took the Inky approach to covering the world. Blogs are lively, but don’t, at least yet, provide the same scope and lyricism as the Daily News two decades ago.

This all rushed back the other day when I listened to Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.” The song, in case you’re not familiar, invokes the late Mafioso Chicken Man Testa in its opening line. (“Well, they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night…”)

Testa grew up in South Philly with Don Ficco, a former newspaper coworker long since departed. Don, a kindly refuge from the shuttered Bulletin with a wizened arm and myriad health problems, always credited childhood polio with keeping him out of the mob.

Our small paper on the Main Line was a world apart from South Philly and the big-city Bulletin. It was the kind of place where you might interview the inspiration for Katharine Hepburn’s character in “The Philadelphia Story” after she came in from the barn on her estate. (She was very down to earth.)

The tabloid paper was my window into the scrappier side of Philadelphia that my Quaker ancestors presumably never knew. Against the odds, it’s still kicking.

Meanwhile, the L.A. Times keeps shrinking the paper’s size and ambition in a desperate attempt to appeal to younger readers that probably don’t subscribe anyway. Can’t we have style and substance?


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