Reading award winning feature story Pearls Before Breakfast, I am impressed with the precision with which Gene Weingarten described the experiment: 7.51am on a Friday morning, 43 minutes, 1,097 people (he actually counted!?). It is this attention to detail that is seen repeatedly in the rest of the article — a commuter’s one minute 15 second- ride up the escalator, another’s iPod track “Just Like Heaven” — and shows readers that this guy is very serious about his work.
Throughout the whole story, Weingarten’s voice is very much present. He comes up here and there. “Hang on, we’ll get you some expert help”. “We’ll tell you in a minute”. “What do you do, Jackie?” This would have been a huge boo-boo in a straight news story, but here, it offers a fresh breath from the narrative about how great Bell was and how the 1,097 people had barely taken notice of him. The conversational tone, coupled with the videos inserted at appropriate junctures in the story, is great for an online piece, though it may be a bit too casual to appear in print.
I also appreciate how Weingarten let us peep behind the scenes, into the planning process and the interview methodology. The disappointment at the poor response of the crowd was accentuated by the concerns the editorial team had about crowd control, and the fact that passersby stopped by the reporters were only told it was for a commuting article further highlighted how awestruck Picarello must have been by Bell to have remembered him.
My only gripe with the article is the seemingly random capitalisation of the words. Sometimes, they seem like subheadings; other times, it felt like he was shouting. It leaves the reader confused and causes him to spend more time on top of the 10 minutes or so reading the lengthy piece.
Still, this is a most ingenious article. Combining journalism, sociology and even philosophy, it challenges city-dwellers to rethink our priorities, to stop and smell the roses, or in this case, listen to the music.