So the Washington Post has finally stopped printing its weekday tabloid, Express, a mere 16 years after I tried to get them to give up on such a bad idea. In fact, I was so sure Express was foolish that I created a same-day-of-publication parody, Expresso, which was distributed at Metro stops right alongside the Post‘s confused hawkers. That is, I had the great help of the Washington City Paper staff, and its publisher, Jane Levine, who agreed to throw more than $10,000 at a fairly juvenile gag.
The inspiration for publicly mocking the Paper of Record came after reading the Post‘s article announcing why they decided to create the thing. Editors had noticed that half of Metro riders weren’t reading a newspaper. Their conclusion: That’s our market! My smug response from my breakfast table: No, those are the people you’ve already lost!
The Post seemed intent on creating a newspaper for people with no interest in reading newspapers. So I came up with the concept of “a paper for people who don’t like to read,” and the tagline: “Half the Content. Twice as Free!” And pretty much wrote all the content-free content, which was largely listicles, before that became a thing. Also took the photos of willing co-workers pretending to be goofs.
At the time, I was City Paper‘s Webmeister, in charge of its online music site, among other tasks. In addition to disliking the idea of what I perceived to be a dumbed-down news product — and note: I was also against the equally simplistic USA Today when it first appeared — part of my reaction against Express came from the fact that the mighty Post was marching into City Paper‘s territory, the free paper. In fact, Express’ initial rate card did undercut City Paper. I was not only opposed to Express on pretentious grounds, but also it was a real threat to my livelihood.
We printed 25,000 copies, I believe, along with bright yellow Expresso T-shirts for staffers to wear that morning at Metro stations around town. And we continued the joke by creating a website, u-love-expresso.com, which went to a gotcha page and then to City Paper‘s homepage. For all of this we won a “Format Buster” award from the Association of Alternative Newspapers.
Side note, as I was giving away copies at the Silver Spring Metro that morning, an older gentleman slowly walked up and, with a sad face, corrected me: “It’s espresso.”