Best Columns of 2011, According to Facebook

We have a winner. Actually two. These two columnists were the overwhelming choice of a few hundred Facebook account holders. Not a tie, definitely a first and second, though.

The National Society of Newspaper Columnists and NSNC member John Avlon (co-editor of this year’s popular anthology Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns) sponsored a straw poll to determine the best columns of 2011.

At mid-day Dec. 27, 2011, we asked for nominations to be placed at, each with headline, date, columnist and web link, emphasizing we were looking for Newspaper Columns in any medium. We closed nominations in 24 hours (try that, Democrats and Republicans!), then voting began on a Facebook-engineered survey. It allowed only 10 choices, so we narrowed the field to 11 by choosing only those literally published in print, cutting one because it came on deadline. Voting continued to noon Central, New Year’s Eve. That was a few minutes ago.

Rob Azevedo
Rob Azevedo

Second place goes to “Going Out Doing What They Love Best” by Rob Azevedo, published May 11 in The Citizen, Laconia, N.H. The column was praised by Avlon on national radio, when Avlon was a substitute host on the Michael Smerconish talk show on Dec. 29 and discussed several of the 10 nominees on the air while interviewing NSNC President Ben Pollock. Azevedo is not an NSNC member, but he writes he’s interested in joining and definitely intends to enter the juried annual NSNC Column Contest, which will open later in January and has a March 1 deadline for submissions. Azevedo lives in Manchester. Wonder what he’ll write about the nation’s first primary coming right up?

Brian O'Connor
Brian O’Connor

Drum roll, please. First place is “Talk Isn’t Cheap at Our House — It’s Priceless” by Brian O’Connor, published in the The Detroit News on June 11. (Note that the newspaper has deleted this link late in the week; this link goes to a Google document.) The piece, despite some funny lines, is a touching piece about his son who has a learning disability. O’Connor is personal finance editor at the News. He has won the NSNC Column Contest twice, first (humor, large papers) in 2007 and third (same category) 2008. He hosted the columnists’ 2011 conference in Detroit and currently is an NSNC at-large board member, chairing the Conference Committee.

All of the columns would be fine nominations for the NSNC’s annual Column Contest. It may sound a little hokey, but the NSNC hopes these fine writers inspire other columnists in all formats including blogs to enter the competition.

This Facebook contest was a informal straw poll, contrasted with the NSNC annual Column Contest, which uses a panel of judges from the profession. Still, the Facebook survey provides a great snapshot on the state of column writing. The variety and quality show The Column is as strong a genre as strong as ever, indicating the New Year will see thousands of essays of commentary, humor, anecdote and advice (and other broad topics) that will illuminate and entertain.

The official, decades-old annual NSNC Column Contest — the level of honor you can boast of on a resume — welcomes published columns in all media: newspapers, magazines, online and blogs written in column style, as well as multimedia formats including video. The rules for 2012 (covering columns published in 2011), will be posted here at in January. The deadline for submissions is March 1, with the winners announced Saturday, May 6, at the NSNC annual conference, this year in Macon, Ga.

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