WSJ’s Shellenbarger plans to retire after 40 years
Wall Street Journal editor in chief Matt Murray sent out the following announcement on Monday:
One of the pioneering reporters and editors of The Wall Street Journal has decided, alas for us, that the time has come to enjoy a richly deserved retirement. Sue Shellenbarger, whose Work & Family column has consistently been one of the most popular and beloved features we publish and a fixture of this great institution for three decades, has decided to lay down her pen on January 3, 2020, the 40th anniversary of her first day at The Wall Street Journal.
Happy as we all are for Sue, we can be sure readers will feel her loss acutely. Sue has been the standard bearer for several generations of working mothers and a farseeing chronicler of the ways in which work and life have come to intersect for us all. She literally changed the way these issues are covered in journalism and, through her reporting, effected an awakening in understanding of them. Her range of subjects and ability to tap into the latest trends has been nothing short of dazzling for decades, and her productivity has been prodigious. Readers have long known that they can turn to Sue for insights into the latest trends and ideas in thinking about work and family. But more than that, they know Sue is a writer who has never forgotten that business and work, at the end of the day, are not obscure specialty topics but profoundly human activities, involving real people, that sit at the very heart of our lives and identities.
Sue began her journalism career covering suburban zoning-board meetings outside of Chicago for the Chicago Tribune. She moved on to a reporting job at the Associated Press. Blocked from her dream of becoming a sportswriter by pro baseball’s pre-1978 ban on women in locker rooms, Sue volunteered to write the AP’s daily commodities column and in 1980, rode a wave of inflation news into a markets-reporting job at The Journal’s Chicago bureau.
Sue became national markets editor in 1986 and was named Chicago bureau chief in 1987. But, in a conflict familiar to many professionals, she felt torn between the challenge of serving her bureau the way she felt she should and the needs of her two children. Therein lay a spark, and, amid a rapid rise in working mothers, she created the Work & Family column in 1991 in hopes of turning the demographic transformation of the workforce into a national news story.
Among early stories, she wrote about how bosses trained in the 1980s were slow to adapt to employees’ growing demand for job flexibility, defying federal family-leave law and flouting pregnancy-discrimination laws. She saw how the 1990s boom in telecommuting freed people to work from bathrooms, beaches or their beds. As burnout became a household word, more frazzled working parents gave up on enjoying life in favor of living in the future. Later, the column sparked an early debate about helicopter parents after Sue confessed to being one herself.
More recently, the tech boom and a trend toward open offices have inflicted new forms of stress, from suffering through conference calls to crashing into the glass walls of your conference room. Readers flocked to columns that simplified complex issues, such as what teens really need from their parents, or why perks alone aren’t enough any more to inspire employee loyalty. And in another demographic shift, a new generation of workers not only expects employers to support their family and personal needs, but to provide them a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Sue has written three books, including a recent WSJ ebook compiling her career coverage for college students. Her column has won eight national awards, including Best General Interest Column from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. She has been named one of the nation’s 25 most influential working mothers by Working Mother magazine and one of the 25 people who have done the most to help women in the workplace by Working Woman magazine.
Sue hopes in retirement to travel widely with her partner, Jack; volunteer with two beloved nonprofits; and enjoy her five adult children and stepchildren and seven step-grandchildren. She says she also intends to relish reading The Wall Street Journal every morning. It is incumbent on every one of us to follow her example and make sure we continue to deliver a Journal that meets her exacting standards.
We will share more soon about our plans for the next iteration of Work & Family coverage. We also will have a moment to celebrate Sue in New York in December. Today is for joining together to thank Sue for all she has done for our readers and for journalism, for the model she has set for her colleagues and for the insight and power we can draw from her body of work.