Editor's Note:

By Tom Shroder
Sunday, May 24, 2009

I've been thinking in economic terms these days. As I reviewed this week's stories and features, terms like "investment" kept springing forth. We are keenly aware that we ask readers to make one. Not a cash investment -- our stories come free on the Web, and arrive with the Sunday paper for less than what the raw ink and paper would cost. But that doesn't mean the investment isn't substantial. It's just expressed in time, and trust, instead of currency.

It takes time to read through the Magazine on a lovely weekend day, time busy people could spend vegging out in front of some tasty trash TV, like "Real Housewives of Hell"; or teaching the offspring how to operate the riding mower, so their parents won't have to; or just rolling deliriously around the lawn like a cocker spaniel.

That's where the trust comes in. You take the time because you trust us to deliver the goods. In other words, you expect a return on your investment, a net profit. Someone stop me before I turn into Warren Buffett. (On second thought, don't stop me.)

My point is, because we respect what you put into reading the Magazine, we've designed it to balance the high investment pieces -- our major articles, which take a lot of time and therefore better deliver a lot in return -- with other pieces that can produce substantial return on a much smaller investment. You can take in Dilbert and Cul de Sac, in seconds, but they often offer a spark of insight, or irony, that can linger through the day. Then & Again only requires a glance, yet there's something magical about how it makes time visible. First Person Singular, consistently one of the most popular features, is designed to reveal a surprising side of the fascinating or famous in just a handful of words.

And check out the Editor's Query on Page 7. Talk about foot-in-mouth disease. As happens so often, a reader's response to our prompt -- in this case, "Tell us about a time you just couldn't keep a cork in it" -- is dangerous to read while consuming a hot beverage.

But I want to draw your attention to two other features offering especially high dividends this week: There's the XX Files, by Sandra Beasley, who gives us a strikingly moving memoir about, of all things, a high school talent show. And there's Below the Beltway, by Gene Weingarten, the idiot savant of American journalism, who one week is cracking flatulence jokes and the next is blowing our minds with soul-searing reportage revealing secrets of the human heart. As it happens, today's column bridges the gap between jester and genius. Trust me, you can't afford to miss it.

Tom Shroder can be reached at shrodert@washpost.com.


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