Art of Column Writing
By Suzette Martinez Standring
2004-06 NSNC President
It’s the season of peace and goodwill, yet the hot breath of tragedy is fresh — the Paris bombings, the Syrian refugee crisis, and gun violence in America. As readers reach out for news, journalists and columnists are first-responders. Sometimes I don’t know how to respond. Politics are polarizing, issues complex, and my writing mind is paralyzed.
However, letting people know they are not alone underpins what columnists do. I forget that when it seems the whole world is taking sides.
Recently, in the Syrian refugee crisis, I was overwhelmed by the great divide between keep your humanity and care for the persecuted, versus be safe, slam all immigration doors shut. What could I possibly add to the frenzy?
Then I saw a video column by NSNC member Rick Horowitz with the title: “Refugees? We’re America! (And Sometimes We’re Scared.)”
There it was. A basic truth. We feel fear. Rick reminded listeners that there had been episodes when America turned away from refugees or meted out unfair treatment to targeted populations. Nowadays, modern Americans may review those historical instances with shame. Yet, he pointed out, even with hindsight, it is difficult not to repeat the same mistakes today when beset with fear and panic.
I appreciated what Rick had done. He was present in the emotion of right now. He removed a reader’s sense of aloneness. He acknowledged what most feel, but are too ashamed to admit, and that is, I am afraid and I‘m not sure what to do.
Today’s struggles are not our first and, sadly, not our last. In time, solutions will present themselves, and wisdom can be drawn from past lessons.
I am reminded to breathe, take a step back and not to succumb to the panic or knee-jerk reactions natural to fear. Not wanting to write is a symptom of helplessness. As columnists, we continue reach out to readers in our own unique way.
Whatever happens in our world, it comes down to coping, healing and connection.
It’s what columnists do best: restore a sense of community and help readers move through their emotions. We rescue others from aloneness, even when we don’t have the answers. Therein lies the gift of hope.
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This piece first was published in the December 2015 issue of The Columnist, the monthly membership newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.