July 29, 2010

What happened to the A1 WSJ feature?


My mounting suspicion about the decreasing quality of the Wall Street Journal A1 feature was confirmed exactly one day after I considered writing about it.

This was a couple months back. And my attitude hasn't changed.

So I'm laying it on the line: The A1 feature, which rose to a vaunted pedestal in my books and became a sort of career aspiration about four years ago, has depreciated.

Goodbye depth, hello quirk. Instead of illuminating subjects from around the world, the A1 Journal feature now serves as the oddball story most often seen at the very end of TV news programs -- the laugh laugh "goodnight everyone" story.

One weekend it was competitive wok riding. Then "artery-clogging sandwiches."

James Stewart's excellent "Follow the Story" taught me that the average A1 feature writer for the Journal would complete about 8 stories per year (if prolific). Now the stories read like quick-turns culled from the latest reality television shows. They read like Food Network mini features ... "Top 10 Ice Cream Stands!"

They're still good stories, relatively speaking, and I appreciate that the Journal reserves that space. They're just not what they were.

In June and July I found stories on lawn bowlers, beer tasters, and ballplayers; peacocks in California and ChickenDiapers.com; fancy boilers and Booty Pops.

They're fun stories, hip and new and in love with the Internet.

But they're not deep. I always flip to the jump page and frown at the short caboose. The features I remember, which spurred me to copy their forms as practice, took me deeper into minds and farther around the world.

My favorite was "Preserving the Tibetan Mastiff."

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2 Comments:

Blogger Daniel Silliman said...

Any theories as to why?

July 30, 2010 at 11:28 AM 
Blogger Tony Gonzalez said...

I don't have any evidence in any direction and I haven't bothered to call the one WSJ reporter I know (who did write one story that made it to the A1 feature spot).

So I'm not sure if it's something to do with a shrinking newsroom or a specific choice by the higher ups.

July 30, 2010 at 11:14 PM 

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