you, the columnist
By Dave Lieber
Dallas Morning News columnist
Did you catch any of the wonderful snippets of advice on Twitter recently tied to the hashtag #AdviceforYoungJournalists?
Hundreds of folks participated from around the world. Some responses were annoying such as one posted by anti-newspaper dolt @jeffjarvis (“Don’t get old.”) Others were quite wonderful:
“Ignore the haters,” tweeted @webjournalist.
@PennyRed tweeted, “Tell stories that aren’t being heard. Amplify unheard voices. ‘Go to where the silence is.’ — Amy Goodman.”
@emilybell: “Pick up the phone. Not joking. Ring them up. In person. At the weekend.”
I began thinking about wonderful pieces of advice I heard as a young one. These words hang over me today like old friends. Guiding lights as I try to maneuver close to the edge without stepping over any lines.
Here are some that I remember:
What kind of columnist are you going to be? A meteor that shoots brightly across the sky and then flames out? Or a comet that keeps coming around for more, as bright as ever? — the late Gil Spencer, former Philadelphia Daily News and Denver Post editor
As a columnist, you have a platform for social good. What type of non-profit can you align yourself with to help both of you grow and prosper? — Jonathan Nicholas, former Portland Oregonian columnist, 1996-98 NSNC president and founder of Cycle Oregon
Remember that public officials you write about who do bad things are not always crooks. Sometimes they’re just stupid. — Don Marsh, former editor of The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette
Aim for short well-written feature pieces in the style of the legendary Homer Bigart. — Gene Roberts, former editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer
Never let them see you sweat, no matter what. — Gary Farrugia, publisher, The Day, New London, Connecticut
Write every column like it’s your last one. — Debbie Price, former columnist, Philadelphia Daily News
Who, what, when, where and why. — James Fisher-Northrup, my high school journalism teacher
Have fun. Always. — Diane Ketcham, former columnist, The New York Times, NSNC Lifetime Director of Fun
People will tell you anything and everything. But you have to smile and you also have to ask. — Bob Morris, former columnist, Orlando Sentinel
No matter the beat, no matter the story, every day is a chance to make page 1. — Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down and former staff writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer
Put some soul in your writing. — Wil Haygood, former Washington Post Style section writer and author of the story behind The Butler movie
When you write a column on a topic, you will hear from like-minded people interested in that subject. Why not go the extra step and help them connect with one another? — Bill Tammeus, former columnist at the Kansas City Star, author of the Faith Matters blog and 1992-94 NSNC president
Don’t worry about getting it first. Worry about getting it right. — Bill Marimow, editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer
Few stories are important enough that they need to ruin someone’s life — Marimow
Do everything within your power to get both sides of the story. — Marimow, again
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Dave Lieber is The Watchdog investigative columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Curious about the chaos and havoc he is causing in the world? His stuff is free at dallasnews.com/watchdog.