Bullish on the Future of Column Writing

Art of Column Writing

By Suzette Martinez Standring
2004-06 President
National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Suzette Martinez Standring

Suzette Standring

Columnist downsizing feels like a solitary darkness, so news that our industry is turning a corner was sunlight on a cell window.  Last June John Avlon, editor in chief of The Daily Beast, was a bringer of light.

At the NSNC conference in Washington, D.C. the CNN political analyst announced, “We’re moving past the phase of destruction toward creation.”

The good news is digital journalism is being monetized, which brings an increase in staffing and reporters. “For the first time in a long time,” he said.

John Avlon addresses the National Society of Newspaper Columnists June 28, 2014, at the Washington Plaza Hotel.

John Avlon addresses the National Society of Newspaper Columnists June 28, 2014, at the Washington Plaza Hotel. Photo, Suzette Martinez Standring.

But not every columnist will profit from the upswing, and Avlon said, “There is a new truth, and that is the old model of columnizing is dead.”

To avoid one’s byline being laid to rest amid flowers but little fanfare, then heed his advice.

“Social media is the main driver for disseminating content.  Social media is mandatory, not optional,” he said, and pointed out that it is no longer enough for a writer to be clever.  (“Really?” ask the crestfallen.)

A columnist must be quick and nimble with various platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter (and all those other platforms you’ve been avoiding) in order to promote a message with power and reach.  (Oops, a few lumbering technosaurs just fell into the La Brea Tar Pits. It’s crowded down here.)

What is your genre of column writing? Pick a niche and own it and use social media to raise your presence to a higher level.

Although excellent writing will always be the star of the show, on-line competition requires journalists to set themselves apart.

“Create value to a column with reporting,” Avlon said. Facts, studies, quotes from experts, new angles and research will add to a columnist’s reputation as a go-to resource.  Although reporting is vital, capturing the emotion of an issue creates universal resonance.  Avlon said, “Storytelling with compassion cuts across ideologies.”

To craft a standout blog or column, Avlon offered these elements:

  • A strong point of view
  • Expertise
  • Research
  • A compelling read

Avlon said, “I’m bullish about columnists as long as they embrace social media.  The best days are still ahead.”

• • •

Suzette Martinez Standring is the author of the new Amazon bestseller, The Art of Opinion Writing: Insider Secrets from Top Op- Ed Columnists, and the award winning, The Art of Column Writing. She contributes to The Huffington Post.

This column was first published in the August 2014 edition of The Columnist, the membership newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

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