The Latest: Feathers, feathers, and um, more feathers…

Bait and switch? Hair extension fad angers anglers
Story and photos by Jessie L. Bonner

Fly shop manager Jim Bernstein was warned that hair stylists would come banging on his door, but he didn’t listen.
Sure enough, less than 24 hours later, a woman walked into the Eldredge Bros. Fly Shop in Maine and made a beeline toward a display of hackles — the long, skinny rooster feathers fishermen use to make lure.
“She brought a bunch up to the counter and asked if I could get them in pink,” he said. “That’s when I knew.”
Fly fishing shops nationwide, he learned, are at the center of the latest hair trend: Feather extensions. Supplies at stores from the coasts of Maine to landlocked Idaho are running out, and some feathers sold online are fetching hundreds of dollars more than the usual prices.

The rest of the story:

First of all, I’ve never been fishing. And in my journalism career, I have never asked a hairstylist for an interview and been told: “You can call me at 10 p.m. when I get off, take it or leave it.”

For the record, the Boise salon where I shot these photos was awesome. The woman I mentioned above was from Colorado (and no, I didn’t not call her back.) But back to the hairstylists I did interview in Boise _ they were great, and I felt horrible when I told them where the feathers came from. They did not know that most of the birds die so that the feathers can be harvested, and I felt like a spoil sport when someone asked, and I answered.

My story had more than 2,000 comments on and most of them went like this:

“I’m revolted by everything in this article. From the idea of a fashion blogger treating the raising and killing of birds for their feathers as a mere side note to the fact that those bird breeders are allowed to do what they do. It’s all disgusting.”  Posted by Jess Fri Jun 3, 2011

Or this girl, Meghan the Veghan, who decided to get her feathers removed because of my story:

I didn’t set out to make teenagers cry, or upset their parents, who may or may not be members of PETA. I didn’t have an agenda, I’m just a journalist who happens to live for the small, mundane details of life (during one internship, I became known as the “grass girl” because I did a story about people’s lawns).

When I approach stories, I’m often reminded of something that the Poynter Institute’s Chip Scanlan said to a class of recent college graduates in 2005. We were all super young, super green, and super eager to start work as real journalists. And we were bringing him the story pitches we had gathered as we raced through our respective neighborhoods, our clothes darkening with sweat because most of us had never experienced a Florida summer.

I was sitting there, shaking in my sweat-stained clothes, and waiting for my turn to pitch my story. My story about grass.

But then, he started talking. And I’m probably butchering it, but he asked each of us something to effect of: What is your story about and what does it say about the world we live in?

It stuck with me, and I ask myself that question alot. So, as a writer and a fan of the smallest of details,  I guess my point is this: Sometimes those small details have a lot to say.



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