you, the columnist
By Dave Lieber
Dallas Morning News columnist
What’s your thang?
Do you have something that you’re known for? What kind of writer are you? How do you explain what you do at parties?
This comes up because decades after her death, columnist Hedda Hopper came back to life as actress Helen Mirren in the movie Trumbo.
“A Columnist’s Flamboyance Was Her Brand,” headlined a New York Times feature by Ruth La Ferla.
“Hedda Hopper used wardrobe and artifice in an innovative self-marketing campaign,” was the subhead.
She used her hats “garnished with toy horns, Eiffel Towers and Easter eggs” to turn herself into “a viable American brand.”
Here was a columnist who played herself in several movies, someone who appeared on I Love Lucy.
Hedda Hopper had a thang.
My publisher has a most interesting thang. Jim Moroney, publisher of The Dallas Morning News, says when he meets someone at a party, the conversation goes like this:
“What do you do for a living, Jim?”
“I fight to save democracy.”
“How do you do that, Jim?”
“I work at a newspaper.”
“Which one, Jim?”
“The Dallas Morning News.”
“What do you do there, Jim?”
“I’m the publisher.”
I find that remarkable and inspiring. This fourth-generation newspaper owner leads with his battle for democracy through journalism and ends his introduction with his title.
What’s your thang? Do you fight to save democracy? Do you want to make your audience laugh and see a little of themselves in your columns? Do you want people to see the other side of an issue?
Are you a problem solver? A revealer of important truths? A thinker who can get others to do the same?
What’s your brand? What’s your claim to fame? What’s your contribution to society?
You have this remarkable job, plus this remarkable dream to get better. How do you take advantage of it?
This is what fascinates me. At the 2016 NSNC conference in Los Angeles, former NSNC President Suzette Standring and I will lead a town hall meeting to find out and share with everyone what’s the best way to reach an audience in 2016.
It’s harder than ever, but your audience is potentially larger than ever. I can’t wait to hear your ideas. Sign up soon because the room block in the hotel is quite small.
See you in L.A., where everybody has a thang — and where wearing a strange hat won’t look out of place.
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This piece first was published in the March 2016 issue of The Columnist, the monthly membership newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.