Is the WSJ "Weekend Journal" any Good?
Jude Wanniski
January 11, 2001


Memo: To Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From Jude Wanniski
Re Yes, it is TERRIFIC

How nice it is to have a spouse who can step into the other half’s shoes when the situation demands. Yesterday morning, I was going to write a “Memo on the Margin” on the minimum wage for today. Uh oh! On the walk down my driveway to get the New York Times – which I could not live without – I slipped on an icy patch and spent the next several hours in Morristown Memorial Hospital (NJ) getting 11 stitches in my scalp and a Cat-Scan. Thanks to all the wonderful doctors and nurses and orderlies at the hospital, I am as good as new. And thank goodness for my wife Patricia, who offered to write today’s memo. Actually, she was eager to write it, because she has become a major fan of the WSJ weekend section, “Weekend Journal,” that is folded into the Friday edition. When we bumped into Peter Kahn, president of Dow Jones & Co., a while back, she showered him with praise for having engineered the section. Now she gets to do publicly. A news media afficianado who was managing editor of the MediaGuide before we sold it to Forbes, Patricia Koyce (her pen name) knows good stuff when she sees it. She even has me reading it.

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When the powers at be at The Wall Street Journal instituted a “Weekend Journal,” it was greeted with some skepticism. A gentleman I know sneered, “a woman’s section.” Hmmm. After a year of keeping his comment in mind and searching for “woman” topics in “Weekend Journal,” I can only conclude the fellow had never actually looked at it. The “Weekend Journal” from front to back is gender neutral. No “gender gap” here. Not every page or article is for everyone, but there is always an appeal to both sexes. Over time it also becomes clear the section miraculously manages to keep a financial bent in most of the articles, remaining true to the spirit and basic mission of the newspaper.

The lead stories in the section are refreshingly varied. The reporters have covered the financial role reversal of parents and children in the new economy (8-11), increasing specialization in the health care field (10-6), diva chefs (11-24), and the male as fashion victim of casual Friday, or any other day (12-1). This is not a front page bound by formula. The lead story is always a surprise. Happily, most are also very well written, while also retaining a sense of humor, in the best style of the daily front-page A-heds. Elizabeth Bernstein carefully straddles the fence between chef and patron in her article, “Tyranny of the Chef,” patiently listing the complaints of both sides: “Customers think nothing of sending dishes back two or three times for alterations, often asking that food be over- or undercooked. For a chef who prides himself on perfectly pink duck breast or the tuna steak seared just so, such treatment is tantamount to food abuse....Diners, for their part, think chefs should just lighten up.” Lisa Gubernick’s treatment as guinea pig for “‘Have I Got a Cure for You!’” must have taken no small amount of courage: She took her “aching back to eight different specialists.” “So how many different answers did we get? You guessed it: Eight....this specialist syndrome that so many of us face has taken on a life of its own. In one major study, more than 1,000 physicians were asked to recommend treatments and tests for three patients with back trouble, based on descriptions of their problems. The responses reflected each doctor’s specialty.” Would a businessman find such topics useful? To a varying degree, probably, much like the other articles in the paper.

There are, naturally, regular columns and columnists. The reviews, which run in the front page’s left-hand column, generally survey film but occasionally books also make the front page. These reviews are always concise and smart, and sometimes even funny. Joe Morgenstern’s deft touch is just right; even his complaints don’t sound particularly petulant. There are columns on books, with an uncompromised best seller list (i.e., Harry Potter is listed as a real book, bought by real people). There are regular sports, arts and automobile columns, and the inevitable television mini-reviews, as one would expect in a weekend section. And as befits a financial newspaper there are comparisons galore. There are online shopping recommendations made by a panel of staffers on everything from leather pants (10-20) to toasters (8-11). I was sorely tempted by the Kenneth Cole boots (12-1), the shopper’s pick. And the survey of earmuffs (12-22) arrived just before the first big snow of the season. The “Finicky Traveler” column reviews hotels probably only accessible to CFOs or lottery winners, but it’s fun to read anyway. The most interesting was Michelle Higgins’ front pager, “You Call This a Spa?” (9-15), which outlined the various options for spa-ing at fancy-schmancy hotels. Someday, maybe. It’s the same for the real estate, “House of the Month” feature, which is always punnily titled. The home of 11-24 is named “Windows 2000" since it was designed by the architect who designed Bill Gates’ manse, and sports a side of windows, literally, as the photograph reveals. These are really the only two items that tend toward fantasy though; the remainder of the section is very well grounded in reality. A busy business person would surely appreciate these detailed reviews.

The real find in the columns is “Tastings.” This weekly wine review and comparison taste test is a delight. The panel covers a wide range of wines, in an unusually wide range of prices. Unlike other articles of this sort, there’s no snooty factor. If a wine is satisfying, it makes the cut, whether its price point is $10 or $100. I am no sommaliere, but wine is all that I’m able to indulge in most of the time, and I’ve learned a great deal from this feature. The authors have also helped to guide me to try new wines of all types. I had a great success earlier this summer with the column on Muscadet, trying two of the wines listed and enjoying both immensely. I’ve taken to cutting the column out and saving it, so as always to have a reference, to have a wine for every occasion. The credo for the column was summed up in a year-end Champagne review (12-8): “status ought to rise from introducing your friends to something new and delicious, whether it’s a $120 bottle of Champagne or a $6 red wine from Chile.” A rising executive anxious to impress a boss at lunch or dinner would find this one column worth the price of the paper.

Over the last year, I’ve tried very hard to put myself in the shoes of the male executive who so derided my favorite Friday read. I’m not sure I succeeded. I’ll never be a man, and probably not a CEO. But I have been a manager in an executive position. And I think “Weekend Journal” is terrific.