Magazine article Editor & Publisher

FEATURES of the Year (1)

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

FEATURES of the Year (1)

Article excerpt

'Tell': Overture of edgy advice

Special Feature

Carolyn Hax

The Washington Post

Washington Post Writers Group

After column colossus Ann Landers died five months ago, two major things happened in the advice-feature world. Several syndicated scribes found themselves with more newspapers, and the advice category skewed toward a somewhat younger readership. No one reflected both these trends more than Carolyn Hax.

The "Tell Me About It" writer's list of papers more than doubled this year, to 200 from 97, a stunning achievement during an economic slowdown. "Dear Abby" writer Jeanne Phillips also gained 100 papers (to 1,300 from 1,200) and the "Annie's Mailbox" team of former Landers assistants Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar found many clients, too. But Hax, 35, registered her gains with a column offering tough-love advice with attitude for those 18 to 40 -- a demographic many general-interest dailies are eager to reach.

"She's funny, witty, and doesn't pull any punches," says Susan Hegger, assistant managing editor for features at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We were looking for a column that appeals to a somewhat younger readership. In general, advice columns can be pretty insipid."

Indeed, it was after reading a "really vanilla" advice column in 1997 that Hax -- then a 30-year-old Washington Post staffer -- jokingly suggested that she write her own feature. The "offer" was taken seriously, and "Tell Me About It" started in the Post and entered syndication less than a year later with the Washington Post Writers Group.

Her readers? "People who are accustomed to getting something that isn't watered down to please a mass audience," says Hax. "If I don't like what you're doing, I'm going to say it" -- though often in a deadpan way. At the same time, Hax is willing to acknowledge her own mistakes and be honest with readers about her own life.

For instance, she told readers -- during one of her weekly online chats late last year -- that she and her then-husband, cartoonist Nick Galifianakis, were getting divorced. Has being single rather than married affected her column this year?

"The more life experiences I get, the more I can bring to the column," she replies. …

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