Chronicle Columnist Was Commended in California

This is the 17th in a series of articles about recipients of the NSNC’s annual Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.
By Dave Astor
Archivist
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll didn’t leave California to receive the NSNC’s Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award — and he also didn’t leave his Chronicle position for more than thirty years.
Upon learning he would receive the Pyle honor at our 2009 conference in Ventura, the Los Angeles native quipped: “Of course, the first thing to do is to check with my doctor, because lifetime achievement awards do seem to come to people who have terminal illnesses.”
But the 73-year-old Carroll is still alive in 2017 — sixteen months after retiring his 1982-launched Chronicle column. At that departure time in 2015, his pieces were appearing Tuesday through Friday on the back page of the newspaper’s “Datebook” entertainment section.
Carroll’s columns (he wrote approximately 8,700 in all) were known for their liberal take on politics and world affairs, and for their quirky humor. Topics also included pop culture, technology, his family, and much more.
In his final Chronicle piece, Carroll said of being a columnist: “I thought it was the best job in the world when I started it; I have had no reason to change my mind. In my capacity, I got to swim with the dolphins…perform with an improv comedy…serve as interlocutor in a hilarious public interview with Molly Ivins [the 1994 Pyle winner]. I went to Papua New Guinea (total eclipse of the sun) and China. I got online in 1987, just to write a column about it…
“I got more serious as I got older, or things did. From the takeover of Iraq to the refugee crisis…the world seemed to be hitting a bad patch. My consciousness was raised on a variety of matters. So that led to yet another column voice. I didn’t think I could change the world; I just thought I’d try to clarify things.”
In a 2012 interview with TheRumpus.net, Carroll added: “The idea is to surprise the reader. The idea is to not be predictable. My problem with [many columns] is that you’ll read three paragraphs and you kind of know what the argument is… God knows I fall prey to received opinion, but I try not to do it in a pedestrian way. So at least the reader has some idea that there might be some little ice-cream cones hidden along the way…”
Before joining the Chronicle, Carroll’s jobs included serving as assistant editor of Rolling Stone and West Coast editor of The Village Voice.

Carroll was contacted for comment Feb. 11, but could not be reached.

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Dave Astor writes the weekly “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com, blogs weekly at DaveAstorOnLiterature.com, and is the author of the memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional.
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