By Lisa Smith Molinari
The steamy scent of freshly cut grass. The rat-a-tat of a distant parade drummer. The squeal of barefoot children. The mouthwatering sizzle of hot dogs on a charcoal grill. The fizz of nearby sparklers. The THUNK! that signals an explosion of color in the night sky.
Every July 4th, we associate these sensations with being American, as we commemorate our nation’s independence. But we should also pause to appreciate the freedoms we enjoy as columnists.
Unlike other journalists, columnists are encouraged to express their particular viewpoints, opinions, critiques, and analyses. We are not limited by the tenets of unbiased reporting; to the contrary, columnists are encouraged to pick a side, take a stand, add spin, and express their individual biases and the reasons for them in detail.
Not so long ago, columnists were classified as “creatives” in the newspaper industry. This designation indicates that creative expression is particularly valued among columnists, allowing us more liberties than other journalists.
Thanks to this unfettered freedom of creative expression, columnists are a diverse lot. We are humorists, critics, reviewers, poets, activists, agitators, advisors, philosophers, entertainers, and experts. NSNC reflects the diversity in our craft with members who are staff columnists, freelancers, bloggers, syndicated columnists, public speakers and opinion journalists. And at our recent NSNC conference last month in Los Angeles, California, our columnists even explored opportunities in television, film and alternative media.
As NSNC’s 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Leonard Pitts, Jr., put it during our Friday night conference dinner at the Will Rogers Ranch on June 24th, “What we do matters.” And that applies no matter what new form our columns take.
Today’s NSNC is committed to staying on the leading edge of this new age of journalistic freedom through several exciting initiatives:
NETWORKING: In the coming year, our Board will continue to expand its partnership network, which now includes The Will Rogers Foundation, The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, and The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. These win-win alliances provide members with even more chances for education, professional networking, and camaraderie.
MENTORSHIP: In today’s ever-changing industry, many writers want to break into blogging or print columns, but don’t know where to begin. NSNC will further develop its mentorship program, connecting writers who need one-on-one advice with members who have been there, done that.
STUDENT ENGAGEMENT: The NSNC Board is collaborating with the College Media Association to engage students through teaching, mentorship, our Annual Jeff Zazlow Scholarship Competition and membership in NSNC. Our student members are welcomed directly into the NSNC family. In fact, at our recent conference in LA, Jake Schmidt, University of Texas (Austin) student and 2016 NSNC scholarship recipient, chatted casually with experienced columnists every night in our hospitality suite, to include long-time syndicated “Dear Abby” columnist, Jeanne Phillips.
CONFERENCE: Lastly, as our members unpack their suitcases from the LA Conference, plans are already being made for an equally fabulous event in June 2017. In keeping with the new age of journalistic freedom for columnists, the theme of next year’s conference will be “Live Free and Write!” — an apropos motto taken from the host state of New Hampshire, which is surprisingly diverse in terms of culture, raw beauty and amazing political history. The city of Manchester will host our annual event at the Radisson Hotel, only a 10-minute drive from the New Hampshire/Boston Regional Airport, and home of the nationally renown Institute of Politics at St. Anselm’s College. Like LA, the 2017 conference will schedule a wide range of prestigious and practical speakers that offer inspiration and information you can use to up your game as a writer.
This 4th of July, as you enjoy the tang of barbecue sauce, the pop of fresh corn on the cob, and the cooling quench of watermelon, don’t forget that, as a columnist, you also get to savor the sweet taste of freedom.