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The Economics of the Big-Time Columnist

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Blog Is My Co-Pilot, Jan 5, 2007.

  1. Blog Is My Co-Pilot

    Blog Is My Co-Pilot New Member

    Greetings, all.

    A question: At what point does it cease to make economical sense for a newspaper to pay a big-time columnist big-time dollars?

    The topic came up in the Philly layoffs thread.

    Which is better, a $150,000 columnist, or three $50,000 reporters?

    It seems odd that we take our brightest, most talented, most creative writers, and put them in a 20-inch box.

    Will we see more columnist/investigative/takeout hybrid positions in the future? Is that a good idea?
  2. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    $50,000 reporters are great, don't get me wrong.

    But if you're paying somebody $150,000, he or she is presumably a "destination" read. And that's still an extremely valuable commodity, I would think.
  3. Lugnuts

    Lugnuts Well-Known Member

    I think the tightening of access across sports has made the 'opinion' very easy and cheap. There's a sea of opinion out there right now, and often it's shouted.

    Simply put: It's getting too hard to report, so we shout our opinion instead.

    At the same time, the tightening of access has made information increasingly scarce, and therefore a premium.

    So I'll take the information people -- the reporters.

    Which is what Frank Ridgeway was saying on another thread....
  4. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    No, it doesn't make sense. Many columnists are overpaid, because, frankly, they're just decent. They might be an enjoyable read now and then, but they don't matter, they don't hustle much for news, and they're good but not great writers.

    Plain opinions aren't worth as much because of the Internet. It takes a little more now. Too many columnists make too much money doing "ATH" in print.
  5. MileHigh

    MileHigh Moderator Staff Member

    It depends on the columnist. I go to the L.A. Times not just because I grew up with it, but because I will read anything by Bill Plaschke and T.J. Simers. I go to the Kansas City Star because I enjoy Joe Posnanski and, yes, even Jason Whitlock. Same with Mike Bianchi in Orlando, Mike Wise in Washington. But I don't seek out Stephen A. Smith, for example, because the stuff I have read bores me. But still, it depends on the columnist. It makes sense for the Miami Herald to pay Edwin Pope and have him write because many people still want to read what he has to write.
  6. The raw fact of the matter is that the "destination columnist" simply doesn't exist any more. Not since Royko died, anyway, He was the last columnist who demonstrably moved newspapers, as was obvious when he left the S-T for the Trib. People buy or, more terrifyingly, don't buy newspapers for a whole host of reasons, but nobody buys them to see what X had to say.
    Sad but true.
  7. henryhenry

    henryhenry Member

    columnists are overpaid because they're interchangeable.

    fans root for the uniform - doesn't matter who's wearing it.

    same with columns. they'll read whoever is writing it.
  8. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    FB: I agree that there's nobody at Royko's level anymore, but I guarantee you -- like him or not -- that Le Batard was a destination read after Nick Saban flew the coop, for example.

    I still think the Simers of the world are destinations for some.
  9. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member

    This is so wrong. It's not even close.
    It's a false conclusion and you're comparing apples and dangling participles.
  10. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    If a newspaper is paying a columnist $150,000 a year, the columnist has to be worth $150,000 a year to the newspaper because the people who run newspapers would get away with paying the columnist $25,000 a year if they could. There are a lot of columnists I don't think are worth anything or worth reading, but that is my opinion. There is also the competitive factor, that a columnist could get equal or better money at another paper.

    The columnist is the face of a sports section and, to an extent, the newspaper. A columnist can get exposure and prestige for the newspaper on radio and television shows. A columnist should also have easier access to people than a $50,000 a year reporter. The other thing is that, despite what most writers think, being a columnist isn't as easy as it looks or as I used to think it is. For one thing, you have to have opinions and be willing to express and support them three times a week. You have to be willing to take the heat and there are a lot of people who aren't willing or able to do that.
  11. Mystery_Meat

    Mystery_Meat Guest

    And most good columnists don't just sit at home and spout off from what they see on the TV, playing the part of a dead-tree talk show host. The good ones are investigative, throw out the most probing questions at a presser, hit the angles harder than a beat writer. It's dangerous to have takeout writers and columnists merge into a hybrid role, becuase while they have a lot of parallel skills, one's supposed to be writing about what is, while the other's writing about what should be -- even the hardest-hitting takeout piece shouldn't stray into out-and-out preaching.

    But it's name recognition, more than talent, that makes a columnist worth $150,000. At that point, you expect them to generate income by their mere presence, particularly if you're in a multi-paper town. Say what we will about Loopy, but when he switched from the Post to the Daily News (or vice versa), you can bet people followed.
  12. Floyd

    Floyd Member

    To answer the latter part of the original question, do we think that columnist will not be confined simply to columns anymore? I personally would like to see many of those generic columnist jobs become more of a hybrid for someone who does their columns, but also some in depth take out/feature/enterprise material. That seems to me to solve (at least a little bit) both problems.
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