NEW YORK — Last Nov. 14, 38-year-old Martin A. Siegel, one of Wall Street’s leading investment bankers, was spending the afternoon in the Park Avenue offices of Martin Lipton, an eminent takeover lawyer and a man Mr. Siegel had come to regard almost as a father.

Suddenly a federal marshal burst in upon the two men, thrusting a subpoena into Mr. Siegel’s hand. When Mr. Siegel read the subject matter of the investigation—Ivan F. Boesky—and the accompanying list of his own takeover deals at Kidder, Peabody & Co. in the 1980s, he knew his career was over. He began sobbing, as a horrified Mr. Lipton rushed to comfort him. [1]

The Wall Street Journal leder. Has modern American newspapering produced anything better, or at least more elegant? The nation’s leading financial daily has produced long-form narratives on its front page since Bernard Kilgore decided after World War II that the nation’s business news was of interest to people other than the nation’s businessmen and women, and that the interests of the nation’s businessmen and women were broader than just business news.

NEW YORK — On Jan. 17, Patrick Ward, the chief operating officer of Helmsley Enterprises Inc., dashed off a note to the real-estate company’s chief executive, Leona Helmsley.

“Dearest Leona,” it began. “A note to say thank you for the beautiful gift, and for caring about me enough to go to such efforts. You do not know how much you are loved, and I am on top of the list.”

It wasn’t exactly the usual correspondence between top executives of a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. But then, Mr. Ward didn’t follow a typical route to his position within the massive real-estate empire that Mrs. Helmsley inherited in 1997 when her husband Harry died.

Mr. Ward, a 45-year-old optometrist, had no professional experience in the real-state or hotel business when he met Mrs. Helmsley, 80, about four months earlier at a Miami dinner party. They started seeing each other socially before she asked him to take over day-to-day operations of her company. Many of his notes to Mrs. Helmsley highlighted their emotional ties rather than business strategy.

“I care deeply for you and will stand in front of any moving train before I will let that train hit you,” the Jan. 17 note said.

Mr. Ward got hit by a train, all right. Less than one week later, their relationship exploded after a rival executive informed Mrs. Helmsley that Mr. Ward was gay. [2]

How about one, pulled almost at random from the work of James B. Stewart, revealing how watchdogs of the New York Stock Exchange and the Securities Exchange Commission allowed insider trading to flourish during the 1980s, turning our capital markets into a rigged roulette wheel. Drexel Burnham agreed to finance the buyout of National Can Corp. and a few days later a partnership of Drexel principals quietly bought 23,000 National Can shares, before the deal was announced and the shares soared. The emphasis is mine:

Whether or not Drexel or the partnership was involved in any wrongdoing, how such suspicious trading escaped serious scrutiny is a story of regulatory ineptitude. It may help explain why insider trading could have flourished unchecked for so long on Wall Street. [3]

Who else writes with that kind of authority today about both the original wrongdoing and the regulatory failure? Why do we take these stories for granted?

MORTON, Miss. — They call it “the chain,” a swift steel shackle that shuttles dead chickens down a disassembly line of hangers, skinners, gut-pullers and gizzard-cutters. The chain has been rattling at 90 birds a minute for nine hours when the woman working feverishly beside me crumples onto a pile of drumsticks.

“No more,” she whimpers. [4]

Aficionados won’t need the footnote to know who wrote that. Or this one, same author, on Dickensian conditions in a Hagerstown, Maryland, bank-statement processing center, where windows are covered and talking is forbidden.

This total focus may boost productivity, but it makes many workers feel lonely and trapped. Some try to circumvent the silence rule, like kids in a school library. “If you don’t turn your head and sort of mumble out of the side of your mouth, supervisors won’t hear you most of the time,” Cindy Kesselring explains during her lunch break…

During lunch, workers crowd in the parking lot outside, chatting nonstop. “Some of us don’t eat much because the more you chew the less you can talk,” Ms. Kesselring says. There aren’t other scheduled breaks and workers aren’t allowed to sip coffee or eat at their desks during the long stretches before and after lunch. Hard candy is the only permitted desk snack.(5)

Hard candy.

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.