“Consistently throughout this time,” Usher noted, “society news would make [the] front page.” Stories about the comings and goings of presidents’ children or New York’s upper class would lead the daily headlines.
When the paper expanded to multiple sections in the early 20th century, society and wedding news moved from the front page to its own standalone section. And during the years, it’s also become more national in scope.
“This was the chronicles of the rich and famous. There has always been a weddings section,” Usher said.
And, she added, “It has always been well-designed with pretty pictures.”
But that’s not the only reason Hill staffers choose the Times. Gregg Nunziata, former counsel to the chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said that he and his wife, Darpana, chose the Times because, unlike other announcements, it “treats it more like a story.”
But this isn’t the type of marriage story that you’d tell in a wedding toast. The announcements don’t tell stories of fortuitous encounters or passionate courtships. Instead, they tell stories of each partner’s professional success and presumed social stature.
As Times columnist David Brooks once remarked, they tell stories of men and women who “spent the critical years between ages 16 and 24 winning the approval of their elders.”
Among the information couples must submit: job titles for each partner and their parents; company names; and degrees earned and universities attended.
The sample announcement on the Times website looks like a “Mad Libs” game for the career-oriented, with blank spaces for couples to insert information about their graduate degrees.
Robert Woletz, the editor who oversees the weddings pages, said in a 2009 column, “The basic premise is that we’re looking for people who have achievements.”
Hill staffers, of course, have a reputation for fitting this profile. All of the staffers featured during the past year graduated from well-known universities — many of them from Ivy League schools.
Most have graduate degrees, and all have landed top positions in and around the Capitol complex. Their résumés boast a covetable combination of credentials and influence.
Woletz denies that, as a group, they have any type of advantage when it comes to selecting the announcements. “It’s the same as for everyone else,” he said.
But Heather Sala, president of HJ Planners, a local wedding consulting firm, disagrees. “What we’ve found is that the best way to get your story into the Times ... is to have a good angle to the story.”
A former communications director for the Senate Banking Committee married a one-time aide to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the former Banking Committee chairman? There’s a good angle.
She added that there’s another aspect of working on the Hill that clearly helps: “A lot of times we’ll tell clients that name-dropping will help get their announcements chosen.”
Perhaps that’s the secret to the staffers’ success on the society pages. When it comes down to it, an accomplished résumé might not be enough to make it amid highbrow competition. Applicants most likely need something more. They need the panache that comes with a recognizable name.
For those who work on the Hill, that simply comes with the territory.