Columnism and the dangers of association
Col-um-nist, n. An advocate or supporter of columnism.
When I started out in the journalism business, I thought it would be fun to be a columnist some day, but I knew there were concerns that needed to be resolved before I made any kind of a commitment.
What, for instance, would my friends say? Would they whisper “He’s a card-carrying columnist” behind my back? Would they deny knowing me? Would the FBI interrogate them about my activities? Would they have to appear before a Senate committee? Would they worry about finding their names in a file labeled “Friends of Rufa”?
The heck with it, I decided. The temptation was too great, so back in the mid-1980s, when a local paper down in Southern Pines offered me a chance to write a column twice a week, I took a shot at it. It turned into a gig that lasted more than six years.
It went to my head. Imagine - me, a columnist, with fellow travelers like Ellen Goodman, Russell Baker, Dave Barry, Kathleen Parker, Molly Ivins and Art Buchwald. Who knew - I might even have lunch with them some day.
Who could possibly pass up the advantages and privileges of being a columnist? Columnists can write about anything we want, and if you hit the big time, it doesn’t even have to make sense. Another plus is that columnists can write long paragraphs, while reporters have to keep theirs down to a sentence or two and get the five Ws up front, in order of importance. Columnists generally don’t have to worry about their wardrobe either. A columnist can work work in their skivvies, since they can work at home.
Many well-known columnists started out as reporters, although I had to rule out that path a long time ago. I just didn’t think I could stand the strain of having to have my facts straight most of the time.
Columnists have a lot more flexibility. And humorists? Why, humorists can really take liberties with facts.
One of the best ways to avoid a lawsuit as a writer is to be funny, because even people who can’t take a joke usually don’t want the world to know it.
The column is a particularly good genre for the lazy writer. Novels take a lot of work (I can vouch for that), and short stories are quite difficult to write. Nonfiction generally involves a lot of research, which is a lot like work.
One of the nicest things about writing a column is that you don’t have to write a whole lot.
In fact, short-and-sweet is the rule rather than the exception, although some columnists do get windy.
In my case, I try to keep a column under 500 words.
However, sometimes I can’t help running over that a bit — especially if it’s important.
I have a fair amount of leeway in this respect, and I really appreciate being able to write as much as necessary, confident the editor won’t delete the