Romanians discover delights of the tabloid

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BUCHAREST - A new daily newspaper has taken Romania by storm, becoming the best-selling paper only three months after launch with a Western-style tabloid mix of news, sensation, satire and social gossip.

Press freedom ushered in by the December 1989 revolution that toppled the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu brought an explosion of titles, but most of them stuck doggedly to the political line of one party or another. None managed to inform and entertain readers at the same time.

Then came Evenimentul Zilei (Event of the Day), and politics had to compete for the front page with sex, crime and ghost stories. 'A rapist enjoys the same rights as the President, Ion Iliescu, to hit the front page of our paper if his story is dramatic enough,' the paper's editor-in-chief, Ion Cristoiu, said.

'We changed the hierarchy of values cast by other dailies which think politics must be a front-page issue,' Mr Cristoiu said. 'Unhappy Husband Kills Wife Because She Grilled Chicken', 'Pope is President's Election Agent' and 'Rats Prepare for Winter' are some of the headlines in a typical edition. They mingle with more serious news and with Mr Cristoiu's own astute political analyses.

'The paper's circulation has jumped from 30,000 to 365,000 copies daily since its June launch,' Mr Cristoiu said. Its closest rival is the daily Adevarul, on 239,000. Adevarul and several other dailies have begun adopting a racier style to meet the challenge.

Evenimentul Zilei focuses on human interest problems, presented in a 'prose-like form, easy to keep in mind and re-tell', said Mr Cristoiu, 44, a former literary critic. 'We live in the Balkans, and people here are hungry for unsophisticated stories which they can tell their neighbours and comment on.' He said the paper was making a handsome profit, despite its higher cover price. It costs 20 lei (about 2p) while other dailies cost 15 lei. It employs 60 young reporters. 'Some of them had no experience at all when they joined the paper but now they move like old foxes,' Mr Cristoiu said.

'I brought some old hacks to work with me when we launched Evenimentul. But they soon left because it was hard for them to understand that the old days are gone and that it is not enough to display the president's picture on the front page.'

The daily is financed by Expres, Romania's largest press publishing house.