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Issues with column writing

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by TheHacker, Sep 28, 2011.

  1. TheHacker

    TheHacker Member

    This is mostly going to apply to folks at smaller papers/community papers who spend a lot of time covering preps, but I'm sure everyone will have thoughts.

    I work for a chain of community papers where all we do is cover preps. The company seems averse to columns, though I've gradually been able to change that. Our management is OK with columns that stick to on-field stuff -- breaking down games, opinions on matchups, predictions, etc. But they get skittish when we want to do anything that addresses off-the-field news/issues/trends in high school sports. We write about stuff like that all the time -- there always seems to be some rules violation or other off-field development that arises. But the management isn't comfortable with us doing opinion pieces on that stuff because they say it would compromise our objectivity.

    I've worked at other papers and seen lots of others where sports reporters write local columns. Early in my career I worked at a place where my beat was prep sports and I had freedom to do columns on whatever I wanted. I was young and still finding my voice as a writer, and I remember my editor telling me my columns needed to be more opinionated. Nobody at that place was worried about whether my objectivity (or the paper's) would be compromised by writing opinion pieces on people/issues that I was covering.

    Have any of you encountered this debate with your management, and how have you countered their concerns?
  2. spurtswriter

    spurtswriter Member

    I debated constantly with management about my column. I always lost. Therefore, I changed papers.
  3. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    Objectivity doesn't exist, but the veneer of objectivity your present to the public is lost when you combine column writing with other beat coverage. Why do you feel the need to write a column? There are few pros to it at a small paper, but a lot of cons.
  4. Dan Feldman

    Dan Feldman Member


    Beat writers have opinions on these issues, anyway. They're human (at least for now). Publishing these opinions shouldn't make the writer any more or less opinionated.

    Beat writers should be the most knowledgeable about what they're covering, so they should be capable of producing the most nuanced and accurate columns on the issue. A "veneer of objectivity" isn't worth protecting.
  5. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    Have you ever worked in a small town?
  6. Dan Feldman

    Dan Feldman Member

    Depends on your definition of small, but I've probably worked somewhere that fits.
  7. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    Have you worked at a paper where parents call and complain, or some loser in town wants to shoot his mouth off? It's not worth the grief.

    Read the "Running Dimwit on the Phone" thread and you'll see why column writing at small papers isn't wise.
  8. Dan Feldman

    Dan Feldman Member

    If there's something significant about a small town I'm missing, let me know. But readers complain in big cities, too.

    If your case is that reporters shouldn't try to do their jobs as well as possible because it's not worth the hassle of responding to criticism, we're on completely different pages.
  9. ColdCat

    ColdCat Well-Known Member

    I run an outdoor column and a racing column, both of which are well received. I also have a weekly column where I usually talk about national issues. I've written about preps in my columns a few times (and the locals small college once or twice) and haven't gotten any angry calls or letters. I stick with two rules when I do a local column: 1- don't call out a local coach, athlete or school, no "I can't believe coach Smith went for it on 4th and 1. He should be fired. What a dope." 2- If you want to state an opinion, make it something most rational people could see the point in. I've written columns with shoutouts to players who have shown good sportsmanship and talked about a proposed chance in the state wrestling tournament, and I got positive feedback.
  10. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    Covering college and pros is different from covering preps. You can't treat a prep beat like the pros, no matter how many people whine on how there shouldn't be any difference in how you approach the two.

    ColdCat has limits on what gets written in columns.

    This is on a tangent, but why do you think big newspapers don't have beat reporters writing columns?
  11. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    My opinion that beat writers should be able to write columns -- and put opinion/analysis in news and game stories -- has been repeated a billion times.

    I think some care has to be taken with columns in small-town papers because yes, if you call the local high school coach an idiot, it's going to be an issue. But that's my pragmatic view, not about philosophy.

    I always found that the columns in small papers that didn't work for me were, say, a guy in Beloit, Wis., writing about the quarterback controversy on the Giants or whatever. A) Most of your readers won't care and B) that's not what I mean when I talk about beat guys being most qualified to offer opinions about the teams they cover. What does a guy in Wisconsin know about the QB situation in New York, except from sources that everybody else can see as well?

    Always bugged me when I saw those columns in college papers (or high school!) as well.
  12. Jake_Taylor

    Jake_Taylor Well-Known Member

    I wrote columns and ran columns written by our other staffer all the time when I was a small town SE with hardly any problem. There are plenty of topics to cover without calling for the high school football coach to be fired or the point guard to be benched.
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