The Journal as a Leading Indicator

Chatterbox, ever alert for signs of when the next recession will come, tries always to read the Wall Street Journal very closely. It is a superb publication (full disclosure: Chatterbox used to work there). During the last few days, however, Chatterbox has been a little pressed for time amid the hurly-burly of domestic life (the refrigerator broke down, the Chattersitter smashed up the Taurus wagon), and he’s been looking for shortcuts. The best one, of course, is to read Slate’s “Today’s Papers” feature. But another technique is to count the number of sections the Journal comes in. Lately, it’s often come in four (front section; international news and editorials and the politics-and-policy “back page”; marketplace section; and money and investing section) rather than the customary three. In addition to making it more difficult to find the Journal’s tendentious editorial page, more sections have the added benefit of demonstrating that the business sector has more money to spend on Wall Street Journal ads. When the four-section Journals stop appearing (or when Journal managing editor Paul Steiger changes his mind and decides he wants to quit after all–according to press reports, he said no late last week to becoming the new Lou Dobbs at CNNfn) you’ll know the economy is about to tank.

Another sign might be the disappearance of ads like the one in the latest issue of Talk that shows a gorgeous model pouring Evian water into a goldfish bowl. Come to think of it, this ad may be a sign that a stock market crash is imminent.