By M.C. Coolidge
April 18 is National Columnists Day, and whether you love ’em, hate ’em, or love to hate ’em — newspaper columnists sure can make reading the paper a lot more fun. We all need to stay informed with hard news, but honestly, there’s only so much Brexit and brouhaha about the economy a person can take.
And that’s where columnists come in.
Some, like Dave Barry, are humorous. Some are big names that inspire or irritate (depending on your politics): Maureen Dowd, George Will, David Brooks. Some become so popular that they’re more like family — like the late, great Art Buchwald.
Every week, columnists hang their egos, opinions, intellect (or lack thereof), and even sometimes their personal lives out on the line, flapping in the breeze of public opinion. For their efforts, they are praised and pilloried in equal measure.
With their ears to the ground, newspaper reporters, editors, and investigative journalists are the lifeblood of news. But columnists are the eyes — holding up a mirror to the citizens, concerns, and controversies of a community. Sometimes offering fresh perspectives on trending stories, but often discovering and sharing some jewel of a story that’s been overlooked elsewhere in the media. Good columnists can influence a community dialogue, even change minds sometimes. Not-so-good columnists can sometimes leave readers wondering, “How’d this knucklehead get a column!?” But either way, readers are reading … and reacting.
And beyond the benefits of social discourse, that engagement helps sell papers.
With all the competition for our interests: the twittering, the television, the taxes we just paid, it’s a minor miracle that so many of us are still reading the newspaper on a daily basis. Some of the credit for that has to be given to columnists. And by and large, they work hard for the money.
A newspaper column may take only a few minutes to read … but a well-written column on any subject can take many hours, even days, to write. And with newspaper print space at a premium, opinions must be opined, wit must be exercised, and details compellingly delivered — all in fewer words but with no sacrifice in quality. As any writer will tell you, it’s a heckuva lot easier to write a thousand words, than it is to write 500. (Speaking of which, I’m at 396 already … so I’ve got to wrap this up.)
The job of the columnist is to connect. To create a bond between reader, writer, newspaper and community.
But it’s readers who make it all possible — even providing their own mini-columns in the guise of letters to the editors, thereby broadening community discussions with citizen perspective. Which makes me think: maybe instead of a national day to celebrate columnists, we should have a national day to thank the folks out there still reading.
Because after all, none of us who make our living through the written word would even have jobs without you — the readers./end
M.C. Coolidge is a writer in Sarasota, Florida, and the author of Sideways in Sarasota, a book of collected essays. For more writing and info, follow her on Facebook at “http://www.VoxMCCoolidge” or visit her website at http://www.mccoolidge.com.