By Michelle Neeley
Tucked in among the business and economic news of the day in The Wall Street Journal are light and quirky stories, a nod to the reader, showing that the Journal recognizes their humanity and their desire to see a side of life that is lighter than just bright financial futures.
The A-hed spot on the front page is coveted by Journal reporters, and for Jeffrey Zaslow, it was one of the reasons he began writing for the paper.
In 1983, the young reporter took a job with the Journal as a commodities reporter.
“He had a very, kind of geeky business beat writing about futures and stuff like that. From very early on, he had his sights set on the A-hed feature,” Zaslow’s colleague and future editor, Mike Miller, said. “He was always trying to find ways to get into that slot, whether it was directly from his beat or something on the side that he would find. For years, that was his home.”
One of his A-hed features he was about a national contest to replace the Chicago Sun-Times’ Ann Landers, a nationally syndicated advice columnist that was leaving the Sun-Times for a job at the Chicago Tribune. As part of his approach to writing the story, he entered the contest and ended up winning.
Zaslow left the Journal for the Sun-Times in 1987, where he remained for 14 years as an advice columnist.
“He turned it into a completely different kind of column,” his wife Sherry Margolis said. “It was still an advice column, but he made it interactive. He made it funny and unorthodox and different—it was great.”
During his time with the Sun-Times, Zaslow also led many fundraising efforts. For 12 years, he put on an event called Zazz Bash, a pre-online dating era singles party, that raised money for homeless shelters and other charities. The Zazz Bashes resulted in 78 marriages.
After his position at the Sun-Times was eliminated, Zaslow returned to the Journal and began writing “Moving On,” a column in the Personal Journal section that focused on life transitions.
“In those columns his personality was so obvious because he wrote with such compassion and such sensitivity and such heart,” Margolis said.
As a father to three daughters, Zaslow was in tune with family matters and would incorporate personal experiences into his articles.
“He was very much aware of the issues that girls face. He was sensitive to that and he wrote about all these things that girls worry about like body image, dating and self esteem,” Margolis said.
His oldest daughter, Jordan Zaslow, reflected on a particular time when he was writing an article about the words ‘I love you.’
“Everywhere he went, he would ask people about how they felt, and it was fun to hear people’s responses. It was cute how invested he was in the story and the length he would take to get the story and get people’s opinions,” Jordan Zaslow said.
“He was a very special human being and those special qualities were reflected in his writing,” Margolis said.
Zaslow was able to write in such a way that the five million readers of the Journal would feel like he was talking to each one of them individually, Miller said.
“Even after he became a bestselling author and was juggling book projects, he very intensely wanted to maintain his connection with the Journal,” Miller said.
Zaslow began his career as an author with a book called The Last Lecture, inspired by a column that he wrote about a dying Carnegie Mellon professor.
While touring for his final book, The Magic Room, he was killed in a car crash in northern Michigan at the age of 53.
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that Zaslow was an ‘A-hed-like’ reporter. Filled with wit, charisma and compassion he was the type of person that was genuinely interested in others, Margolis said.
“The really remarkable thing is that he wrote for this financial newspaper,” Margolis said. “People read The Wall Street Journal to find out about who’s taking over what company and how their stocks are doing. His column took off because that was what people were hoping for. Humans read that paper, and they are looking for more than just stock and financial information.”
And Zaslow delivered.
Michelle Neeley is a native of Tampa, Fla., and a business journalism major in the Class of 2016 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.