It is not often that subjects like wine, travel and entertainment are given the same kind of rigorous treatment by journalists as topics like the economy. But that is exactly what The Wall Street Journal's Weekend Journal sets out to do.
Most newspapers' food sections cover cooking techniques. But if the Weekend Journal is featuring food, it will cover the business and news angle and what the impact is for its readers. 'If we are writing about sports, the home, the art world or entertainment, we do the serious reporting that readers have come to expect from the Journal,' says Weekend editor Joanne Lipman.
The pullout section, which varies in pagination from week to week, appears every Friday after the Money & Investing and Marketplace sections. Like the rest of The Wall Street Journal, it is put together at the Dow Jones headquarters (its parent company) in New York's World Financial Center. Lipman occupies an office on the management floor while the other 40 employees are located one floor higher on the 10th floor.
Working directly for Lipman is Jonathan Dahl, who is an associate editor responsible for travel and sports. Then there are various section editors and writers, all with their own areas of expertise. For example Raymond Sokolov looks after leisure and arts coverage while Erich Eichman has the enviable title of book/taste editor (see sidebar).
There is not much visual relief in the wordy Wall Street Journal, but Weekend is real eye candy, and is the only regular section to use color.
The first page is dominated by a huge cover story with a color photo or cartoon illustration. The cover story is accompanied by film reviews and travel stories.
The Weekend Section is perhaps best known for its wine reviews that appear in the Dow Jones Wine Index. The listing gives a price, rating and tasters' comments, bringing that trademark Journal's 'seriousness' to an otherwise frivolous subject.
'The Wall Street Journal shows you how to earn it,' explains Dahl, 'Weekend tells you how to spend it.'
The section, however, is focused on getting good value whatever your leisure pursuit.
For example, on June 11, writer Teri Agins interviewed designer Todd Oldham for a fashion story about how to combine supermarket clothes with designer separates. The regular column Catalog Critic compares the best value in everything from putting greens to picnic baskets. And the travel section regularly looks at how to get the best bargains.
For readers whose average household income is dollars 126,891, this might seem a little strange. But when Lipman attended a Park Avenue soiree held by some of New York's elite recently, much to her surprise the hosts said they never spent more than dollars 10 on a bottle of wine, validating Weekend's consumer-oriented mission.
Previously responsible for the leisure pages, Lipman launched Weekend on March 20, 1998. She understands public relations, having covered advertising for the Journal from 1986 to 1989. Lipman then went on to be a page one news editor before moving up to head the Weekend section.
Lipman is looking to boost coverage of certain topics. For instance, she recently poached Wendy Bounds from the Journal's main pages to cover health and fitness. Readers are also likely to see beefed-up reporting on TV, food, cars, technology and home office subjects in the near future.
'We are interested in home decorating and we don't hear much from PR executives in that category,' says Lipman, adding: 'Keep in mind, we are news driven. We never do celebrities.'
Lipman says PR executives could also help with the events column Futures and Options. Simply notify the Weekend's editorial team of the upcoming event that you are trying to publicize, and do it at least one month in advance.
Dahl has his own words of advice on pitching. 'Try to picture a typical reporter, if you can, and try to do the leg work for them.' He adds jokingly, 'Pitch them at breakfast. That will get their butts out of bed.'
The start of the work week for the Weekend Journal is Friday. It is the day the section is published and the start of 'a very predictable cycle,' according to Lipman, who starts her day between 9am and 10am but rarely takes lunch.
The team copy edits on Fridays and Mondays, which are the best days to reach people. Tuesdays, Lipman tweaks that week's edition and starts planning the following week's edition. Copy is commissioned and planned four to six weeks in advance and is always edited at least one week ahead of the news cycle. There is a daily editors' meeting at 11am where Lipman ensures there is no overlap between the Weekend and main sections of the Journal. And on Thursdays at 2:30, Lipman has a Weekend editors meeting.
The section is reported to be turning a profit and has brought in revenues of dollars 20 million in its first year. Advertisers include Chanel, Toyota, and Fortunoff, though real estate, which occupies around eight to 10 pages a week, is the real revenue driver.
But it is unclear if the Weekend Journal has helped to boost Friday circulation figures. Lipman only has access to the Monday to Friday average, which for the six months ending March 31, 1999 is 1,792,452. By comparison, USA Today, the only other national title, almost doubles its circulation on Friday, which is 2,133,467 compared to the Monday to Thursday average of 1,739,294. But The Wall Street Journal's circulation department is currently planning to go out on a limb with a Friday-only subscription offer.
Lipman notes that Weekend has helped draw in younger readers and has a high pass-on rate. A readership survey revealed that over 34.8% of readers give their copies to spouses, friends, family and business associates.
The average time spent reading the section is 33 minutes.
Dahl says the section really thrives on original ideas and tries not to follow up material appearing in other publications. Indeed, a number of stories have caught the interest of rivals, bringing Weekend Journal its own PR.For example, Lipman claims Weekend identified the rising number of people buying online in a piece on the first ever e-Christmas, which ran in November 1998 and was followed up by Time and Newsweek.
But the ultimate test of a publication's success is reader satisfaction.
One faithful reader noted that his wife sends him back to the office if he forgets to bring home the Weekend Journal.
And if he is a typical reader, then the team is really on to something.
HOW TO REACH THE WEEKEND
Wall Street Journal
Dow Jones & Company
200 Liberty St
New York, NY 10281
Tel (212) 416-2000 (Switchboard)
Fax (212) 416-2658
E-mail email@example.com (New York staff only)
Editor: Joanne Lipman
Associate Editor: Jonathan Dahl (sports and travel)
Leisure and Arts Editor: Raymond Sokolov
Book/Taste Editor: Erich Eichman
Art and Antiques: Alexandra Peers
Entertainment/Home Front (interiors): Amy Stevens
Assistant News Editor: Edward Felsenthal
LA Editor: Carrie Dolan