Are you an awful columnist?
Writer Hamilton Nolan says you are. He’s sure of it.
In a piece on Fusion called “It is humanly impossible to be a good newspaper columnist,”, he writes that being a regular columnist “is one of the cushiest and most coveted jobs in journalism. Maybe the problem is the entire concept.”
This naysayer describes us as writing twice a week with “reporting optional.”
“It combines a rare minimum of actual work with a great amount of unearned prestige. It is a loud megaphone, a glorious throne, and a cushy retirement home all in one.”
Hey, I’m not saying I agree. I’m just quoting here. Let me continue.
Nolan names the top columnists – Friedman, Dowd, Brooks, Cohen, Will, Parker, and more. He says they all suck.
The problem, he writes, is editors hire the wrong people. They hire newspaper writers, who by definition, he says, can’t write well. Columnists also lack for interesting ideas, he continues. If a columnist writes nine pieces a month, she or he is lucky if two are interesting.
“The rest is just filler,” he adds.
NYT columnist Ross Douthat, whom Nolan says sucks, answered on Twitter. The Times highlighted the tweets in a page 3A story:
“First of all, we do all suck. Granted. Second of all, the author is totally right about how inhumanly impossible it is to generate original ideas on a twice-weekly pace.
“But as a mild counterpoint,” he continues, “here’s something a very veteran columnist said to me when I was starting out.
“‘It’s a mistake,’ he said, ‘to think of your readers as all turning to you religiously twice a week, eager for your particular new idea. You’ll have readers like that, sure. Your fellow journalists, maybe some people in politics and government, some diehard fans.
“‘But you write for a newspaper. It’s a public service, but also a disposable entertainment product. And most people who read it do so haphazardly, intermittently, reading particular columns randomly rather than intentionally, barely noticing your byline.
“‘So if you’re afraid of repeating yourself – well, you will. But many of your readers are only reading, say, one column in five. And that idea that you think is stale, if it’s a good idea, might always be fresh to someone. So don’t be ashamed of returning to it.'”
One of our NSNC founders, Big Bob Hill of Louisville, once told us that we’re like Major League ballplayers. If we get three good hits out of 10, we’re batting .300. That’s good enough to make the all-star team. Good advice.
Oh, by the way, you DON’T suck.