you, the columnist
This column originally was published in the March 2014 edition of The Columnist, the members’ newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.
By Dave Lieber
Columnist, The Dallas Morning News
I keep tellin’ my columnist friends: YA GOTTA GO BIG!
2014 can’t be the play-it-safe year for you, the columnist. More than ever the journalism/writing world is looking for personality brands. What’s your stamp? Your mark? Your big foot in your writing territory?
If you’re not rockin’ big now, what are ya waiting for?
I know. Easier said than done, right? Going big means putting yourself out there, leaving the cliche of the comfort zone, getting out of the box or the cube or whatever this year’s business tripe goes by.
Going big is scary. Going big is a roll of the dice. Going big means success — or failure.
How do I define going big? Simply, anything that, when you consider it A) takes your breath away because of its audacity, B) is risky and out-of-character for you, C) excites the living daylights out of anyone else who hears about it precisely because it is so big.
Going big for me? Well, proposing marriage in my newspaper column tops all. But runners-up include riding a bull in a rodeo, interviewing the Ku Klux Klan, living for three days in a nudist colony for a story (cool it, people) and helping to solve a murder.
I needed to remind myself of my GO BIG advice a few weeks ago. I started a new job recently at a major metropolitan newspaper where most of the people have worked for many, many years. Not many new hires have come in during the recent lean times.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to work beside some of the very best in the business, but also realize that it could take me years to show my gratitude in a way that matters to this very large staff.
But what if I GO BIG?
Here’s what happened: an editor and a reporter got into an argument over who could cook the best chicken dish. By the time they were done knocking each other, mostly through reply-all emails, they made a bet that quickly turned into a newsroom contest. People would pay $5 to eat each contestant’s chicken and then vote. In addition, the paper’s restaurant critic would declare a winner.
The back and forth on the contest was the biggest morale builder in the newsroom since I joined the staff. Each new chicken e-taunt that circulated only built the anticipation. Yeah, quietly, I saw this as a way to GO BIG.
That’s how on the day of the contest, everyone in the newsroom was greeted by someone dressed as a chicken mascot. Nobody expected the chicken. Nobody knew who the chicken was.
The chicken did not speak. But the chicken served as party host. The chicken accepted entry fees. The chicken counted the votes. At the end, the chicken announced the results. That’s when I took my head off.
Summary: They loved the chicken, both on the plate and in their faces.
Me? Was I scared to walk around in a chicken suit? You bet I was. What if I failed? What if everyone thought it was stupid? What if this was a major embarrassment in the first months of my new job?
It’s like writing a column. Aren’t we supposed to be the chicken? Aren’t we supposed to get scared? Aren’t we supposed to surprise our audience — and take charge?
Aren’t we supposed to GO BIG?
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Dave Lieber writes The Watchdog column in The Dallas Morning News. Dave Lieber has written a column for NSNC’s newsletter since 1995. Visit him at www.YankeeCowboy.com and www.WatchdogNation.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.