The Greatness of the Journal
March 28th, 2012

Don’t miss this wonderful little WSJ piece about the cottage industry of former white-collar felons consulting with incoming white-collar felons on how to survive prison.

The piece is worth reading on its own merits, but what’s really great is that it highlights the chasm between the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. You can tell, pretty easily, how just about every line in this piece would have been written by a Times reporter: ponderous, diligent, hectoring.

Instead, the Journal’s Michael Rothfeld is sly, cheeky, and fun. Look at the way he slips “courtesy flush” in there–it’s not just hysterical, it’s artfully done. He’s got such a great punchline that he knows he doesn’t have to do cartwheels around it. He just pulls the pin on the grenade, drops it, and slips out the back door.

I’ve never been quite able to understand why the NYT–outside the precincts of the Sunday Magazine–is so hostile to good writing. Maybe it comes with the burdens of being the paper of record.

  1. Ben March 28, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Dare I say, I love the abiding Britishness of the Journal. It becomes more and more apparent.

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  3. Joe Sixpack March 28, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    As Tom Hanks said in Toy Story: I don’t get it.

    Dumb story written by a dumb writer made somewhat interesting by the phrase courtesy flush.

    Boy Jonny, you’re easily amused.

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  5. Ben March 29, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Sorry, Joe S. you’d have more credibility if you got the source of the Hanks’ quote right, which is from “Big,” not “Toy Story.” (It is in reference to the proposed Transformers rip-off of a robot that turns into a building).

    This individual piece aside, the WSJ’s writing constantly outpaces the NYT’s, although the Times does have some great foreign correspondents. The quality of the writing likely has something to do with proximity to the mothership.

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  7. Nedward March 28, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Oh, the connections through the “Florida rabbi” had to explain it all to him! He never saw the scene from Goodfellas of Paul Sorvino sauteeing the garlic? “I felt he used too many onions”

    BTW, I think the Journal editors are relatively old-fashioned, in that they run stories they personally consider interesting. Years ago I saw their front-pager about the annual(?) Supermarket Checker’s Championships in Atlanta, where some super-powered lady had scanned and bagged thousands of dollars of corn flakes or whatever in like 90 seconds. I thought, “This is kinda odd and how would I even know about this world of checkout competition…”

    As for the Times, my theory is that it attracts more Type-A, frustrated liberal arts majors among the mid-level editors. When you’re the paper of record, it happens. While they can be rather laissez-faire with a writer who’s making a fool of him/herself–cough, Allesandra Staley–they’ll step all over anybody who tries to be a star.

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  9. Nedward March 28, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    I mean, during my career at CVS my skills never got beyond barely functional–more than once I had to empty the bag after miscalculations, or place bags within other bags (common sign of weak strategy)

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  11. Galley Friend L.B. March 29, 2012 at 9:41 am

    Gotta love those Wall Street Journal A-Hed pieces. Even Rupert’s detractors have to give him credit for keeping the Journal’s quirky A-Hed stories around, even as they complain the paper has become more “down market” and does far less in-depth business coverage than it used to.

    I still remember this A-Hed story from a couple years ago, about truck drivers taking up knitting (!) to pass the time between hauls:

    I told my wife about it and she didn’t believe it was true until I brought home the actual paper from the office. 🙂