By Dave Lieber
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Hey, bloggers. Welcome to the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, where, finally, you are invited to join and also enter our annual contest.
After a long battle – I started my fight to let you in more than a decade ago when you were known as “online columnists” – my columnist colleagues on the board of directors have seen the light.
I wrote something for a blog, then pushed the PUBLISH button. The entry shot into the universe for eternity. Shortly after that, a Google news alert arrived. The search engine found it.
OK, I admit it was a thrill. I didn’t have to go through the usual hierarchy: assigning editor, first-read editor, second-line editor, copy editor and then copy desk chief. All I did was sit at my desk and write something fun. (No bathrobe jokes.) And pushed that button.
If only my previous writing life were that easy.
See, bloggers, my columnist buddies and I, at least most of us, started on the bottom rung a long time ago. For me, it was the sixth grade newspaper (which I co-founded). I wrote all through high school and college, too. Taking on the adults. Holding them accountable, even though I couldn’t yet drive.
On a summer internship during college at a big-city paper, I lived in a men’s boarding house (yuk) and earned $150 a week. Ate in restaurants for three months. Hung out with reporters twice as old as me who called me “Kid.”
After college, I made copies of my best six stories, stuck them to a resume and a cover letter and sent the package to 100 newspapers across America. Rejected by all.
When I finally got that first job, I started as small as one can get. My first column was called “Check It Out” and asked readers burning questions such as: Do choosy mothers really choose Jif? (Testing a well-known advertising slogan.) Editor ordered me to put three moms in blindfolds and feed them peanut butter. Yeah, paid my dues.
At the next paper, owned by a cranky, powerful publisher right out of central casting, I again started small, covering suburban council meetings at night and preachers by day (the “preacher feature”).
Impatient, on my own, I made things happen. Visited the local Ku Klux Klan chapter and told the guys to take their hoods off before I would interview them. My photographer about collapsed.
Got promoted. Covered the state Capitol and learned the way the world really works. Back room deals. Wine, women (or men) and song, courtesy of lobbyists. Yep, I was out there. Boots on the ground.
Next job. Bigger paper. One million circulation. More suburban city councils and then, the occasional big event. A trip to the White House. Train crash. A murder or two.
Lived by the credo that you never wrote about somebody without talking to them first. Gotta get the other side. See, the research – the climbing stairs (Jimmy Breslin’s motto) – takes you far away from your original starting point. Life is never what it appears to be.
Now I don’t think twice when I knock on a stranger’s door.
How did your son die?
What secret documents do you have for me – and why?
Sir, forgive me, but did you kill your wife?
We columnists use our information gathering and storytelling skills to inform the public, change lives, make things better (or worse). Or we’re supposed to.
Is that over? Hardly. But now there’s room for both of us, even in the same organization, I hope.
Bloggers, welcome. Just wanted you to understand what we did to get here.
Final note: Bloggers, you disagree. Of course you do. Feel free to let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. (As if you need an invitation.)
See, I get it. Gonna be a two-way conversation from now on.
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Check out Dave’s new book – Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong – at http://www.WatchdogNation.com
The writer is founder of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists Education Foundation (http://www.columnists.com).