National Columnists Day – April 18th
By Bill Tammeus
Former NSNC President
Back in the early 1990s, when I was president of this nervy and nervous band of scribes, I got a note from a new member who was full of enthusiasm for the NSNC but was, alas, directionless.
“I’d like to get involved in something that represents my future,” Dave Lieber wrote. “What ya got?”
Well, you have to be careful with youthful zest. It’s easy to kill. So I dug around in my idea drawer and found something I’d been meaning to get to but hadn’t yet found time – National Columnists Day. There wasn’t one yet. There should be, I thought. And it shouldn’t be too complicated to create.
So I wrote Lieber back (this was pre-email): “I have a half-baked idea that there ought to be a National Columnists Day – to be proclaimed and celebrated far and wide with hangings in effigy and whatnot. Would you be willing to do a little research and recommend some dates? Like the birthday of some great columnist or other. This may go nowhere, but I think it might be kind of fun.”
I half expected Lieber to tell me he’d think about it and then forget about it. That’s not an unusual approach for columnists who are members of professional organizations. But I radically misjudged the boy.
Lieber quickly did a bit of research to confirm his belief that National Columnists Day should have something to do with the choice of his heart, Ernie Pyle. After all, Pyle, a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist, was then and is still widely known, 64 years after he died at the hands of a Japanese sniper while covering World War II.
So Lieber suggested the NSNC designate April 18, the date of Pyle’s death, as National Columnists Day. The idea won NSNC approval and the first celebration of the day occurred in 1995.
There was just one small hitch. In researching all this, we found that a columnist named Jim Six from Somewhere Back East had created his own National Columnists Day just to have something to write about once. And somehow he’d gotten it listed in a famous book of annual events.
So I called Six and asked him to give up his Lone-Ranger approach to the day and join the NSNC. In return, we’d designate his National Columnists Day “Jim Six Day.” He pondered my offer but refused. So we did what any columnist in his right mind would do in such a situation – we ignored him while sometimes talking about him behind his back. I have no idea where Six is today or what has happened to his designated holiday, which I think was in June.
But in case he’s still around, I re-extend my invitation to him to join the NSNC, which this month will continue its annual tip-of-the-cursor to Ernie Pyle.
So how should you celebrate National Columnists Day? Well, if you can’t get someone to take you to lunch, write a column about how what the teetering world of journalism needs more than ever today is a whole boatload full of brilliant columnists. You know, like you.
Bill Tammeus was a columnist with The Kansas City Star forever and a half and still writes his daily “Faith Matters” blog that can be found at The Star’s Web site, www.kansascity.com or at http://billtammeus.typepad.com. His new book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust, will be out soon. See www.theywerejustpeople.com.