Back in the 1980s, when the Wall Street Journal was still exclusively a print product, my little team in the op-ed department formalized the near-daily placement of a short, usually humorous or poignant, article at the bottom of the section. Because of the position on the layer cake, we called those pieces the “tertiary” and gave them an italicized headline. The point was to supply the reader a bit of relief from the weighty and sometimes denunciatory material above. We often selected over-the-transom submissions, slices of American life with wry or true observations on the human condition. We found and favored some wonderful writers, including Joe Queenan, back when he still did $250 piecework. I am reminded of this when, in the WSJ’s mix, I still read such regular tertiaries–the one today is about an old-school plumber. (The Journal’s letters section also plucks such gems.) Especially in these times, benign treatment of our challenges and compatriots has a place amid all the moral lectures. Too many of the opinion sites or sections seem to lack this–the New York Times just christened its latest iteration and I still see little of the light touch. Please, serve a treat with each meal.
An Ode to the Op-ed Sweetener
Bill Poland, 83, is one of the few I know who answer the phone.