• U.S.

The Press: Goodbye to Gore

5 minute read


HER, screamed a National Enquirer front-page headline in 1962. I CUT OUT HER HEART AND STOMPED ON IT W35 another terrifying teaser in the weekly tabloid’s gory old days. The paper’s new day is something else. In a total turnabout, the Enquirer has banished cannibalism, sadism and sick sex in favor of a blend of upbeat success stories, gossip by and about celebrities, plus an overdose of the occult and the quasiscientific. The switch to a kind of respectability has had spectacular results. Circulation, stalled at about 1,000,000 at the height of the Enquirer’s grisly period a few years ago, has risen to 2,600,000 and is still climbing.

Once bought almost furtively from newsstands by a predominantly male readership, the Enquirer now sells mainly in supermarkets to housewives. A 50 price rise to 200 last June has not deterred the customers, and the circulation department is installing 1,000 new store racks a week.

Overfull Liz. What is offered to the housewives is hardly momentous, as reflected in such recent headlines as DO


NEW GIRL. But then Owner-President Generoso Pope Jr., 45, feels that “what you see on Page One of the New York Times does not really interest most people, and interest is our only real rule.”

Judging from a typical issue this month, Enquirer readers are interested in Richard Burton’s anatomical analysis of Liz (“overfull of calories, maybe, but . . . superb of body, not a sag or a wrinkle”). That story was bought from a London paper. Another piece reports claims by some “experts” that “messages from the dead are received by almost 50% of normal people.” Pope’s audience is told of the supposition that because alcoholic rats drink more in the dark, cocktail lounges keep the lights low.

When the Enquirer tugs at heartstrings, it gets a response. Recent appeals on behalf of five needy or handicapped persons quickly raised nearly $100,000. An article on a little Brooklyn girl who wanted to receive Christmas greetings drew not only 70,000 cards but a letter from Pat Nixon as well. Such pulling power also attracts advertisers. Though the paper employs not a single ad salesman, it gets 40% more unsolicited advertising than it can accommodate, and Pope insists that he could turn a profit with no advertising at all, thanks to high circulation and low overhead.

The picture was not always that pleasant for Gene Pope. Born in The Bronx, he edited his father’s Italian-language // Progresso before buying the debt-ridden New York Enquirer in 1952 with $75,000 in borrowed money. Pope transformed it from a horse-racing sheet into a gruesome tabloid in order to turn a profit. “I noticed how auto accidents drew crowds,” he recalls, “and I decided that if it was blood that interested people, I’d give it to them.” In the mid-1960s, however, circulation leveled off, and the number of newsstands and corner candy stores began to decline. Pope saw supermarkets as potential new outlets but realized that he would have to clean up the Enquirer to gain acceptance. He hired virtually a whole new staff in 1968 and changed the paper’s tone.

High Pay. Circulation fell to 700,000 with the switch but quickly recovered in six months, and has been rising ever since. “I don’t think the old paper really hurt anybody,” Pope says, “but I’m not particularly proud of what it was.” Today Pope has both pride and profit. He will not say how much the paper makes, but he is building a beachfront mansion near Palm Beach. “People who wouldn’t spit on us before,” he says, “are clamoring to write stories for us—Congressmen, Cabinet officers, even J. Edgar Hoover.”

Last summer Pope moved his entire editorial operation from New Jersey to Lantana, Fla., and the whole editorial staff of 33 was delighted to go along, both for place and pay. Enquirer writers make starting salaries of $20,000 a year. Copy editors average $30,000 and top editors well over $50,000. Even stringers, who supply many story ideas and some of the rough copy, earn up to $10,000.

Hydrant Stops. Pope admits to affection for the “oldfashioned stunts of the Hearst-Pulitzer days.” He is now dreaming of a transcontinental train race between Rail Buffs Jackie Gleason and Dan Blocker of Bonanza fame. The Enquirer has offered $50,000 rewards for the first hard evidence of the existence of UFOs and the first contact to be made by a scientist with another civilization in the universe.

On a more mundane level, the paper adopted a scraggly mutt from a Miami dog pound last month and invited readers to name him. Pope promises to take the dog to Manhattan’s prestigious Westminster show to meet his betters, and then to Hollywood for a session with Lassie. The Enquirer will note every hydrant stop along the way.

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