“If anything, A-heds are better than they’ve ever been,” she says. “They are a hallmark of the Journal and continually offer original, light-hearted angles on unexpected topics. They’re regularly among the most popular stories that we publish, so clearly readers agree.”
Okay. But, as is usually the case, this goes way beyond the best efforts of working pros. These are questions of resource allocation and newsroom incentives—the usual institutional questions. Just because these stories are supposed to be light and easy to read doesn’t mean they come cheaply or are easy to do. They don’t and they’re not.
To me, some lately can come across as pretty ordinary news features. I can’t say I loved this one about Toyota’s CEO test-driving cars, which had a bit of PR-y vibe to it; or this one about a zombie-themed obstacle-course race—not as much fun as it sounds; or this one about a bike ride in Iowa organized so people can stop to eat a lot.
On the other hand, some are killer:
WASHINGTON—In a Pentagon hallway hung an austere portrait of a Navy man lost at sea in 1908, with his brass buttons, blue-knit uniform and what looks like meticulously blow-dried hair.
Wait. Blow-dried hair?
This one about people, including a hard-luck carpet salesman, who turned down a chance to buy Facebook back in the day, is super. Also difficult to resist:
“Who Needs a WeedWacker When You Can Use a Scythe?”; the ones about the gong business” (“They Strike a Chord With Car Dealers, Yogis and Gastroenterologists”); the the pasta architect; early New Year’s Eve reveling, particularly the bit about the six-foot peep dropping at 5:15 p.m.; word lovers becoming actual lovers, for Valentine’s Day, and plenty of others.
The thing about long-form newspaper writing, particularly off-the-news features, is it really has to justify itself. In other words, the story has to be more than plausible. It has to to be actually and obviously good. It can’t be “meh.”
Otherwise, pretty soon, someone’s going to ask, why are we doing these anyway?
And no one will be able to remember.
1. “In Prague, Absinthe Makes Heart Fonder, And Head Cloudier —- It Remains Illegal Elsewhere, But Enthusiasts Are Blind To Its Advertised Dangers,” Dec. 24, 1996.
2. “Heartbreaking Fight Unfolds in Hospital For Valdez Otters; Rescuers Battle to Save Them With Antitoxins, Prayers; Otter 76 Strains to Breathe,” Apr 20, 1989.