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The Role of a Columnist?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by SixToe, Oct 12, 2011.

  1. SixToe

    SixToe Well-Known Member

    I didn't want to highjack the Spurrier-Morris thread but noticed one post that jogged a thought.

    It said about Morris that his role "is to be controversial" as a columnist.

    I've always believed a columnist should be well-rounded and have an opinion that sparks thought, discussion and possibly debate about an issue or person. Not to be, specifically, "controversial" or "a homer" or any one specific thing.

  2. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    No doubt there are goons in the profession, I figure they choose to be controversial because they know in their hearts they can never be good or enlightening.
  3. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    A columnist should be a voice, a conscious of a community, or embody the soul of one. Sometimes that means going in attack-dog mode, but those moments should be rare.
  4. Matt Stephens

    Matt Stephens Well-Known Member

    I think a good columnist should spark a lot of discussion, whether it's for their point or against. Obviously, he/she is going to have their stance on whatever is being written about, but you gotta keep an open mind to the readers who oppose your views and not write them off.
  5. BrianGriffin

    BrianGriffin Active Member

    Role of a columnist: Show up in the sixth inning/third quarter and ask the beat writer how the player the columnist plans on writing about is doing. Then tell beat writer what the column subject is. Then, when the beat writer tells him about three things that happened during the game (that the columnist missed) that contradict what the columnist is going to write, columnist says "fuck it, you write the facts and I'll just shoot from the hip." Columnist takes elevator to ground level and smokes while waiting for game to end.

    That about sums it up, right?
  6. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I don't think anyone would out-and-out disagree that the role of a columnist is to be engaging and provide perspective and a unique view point.

    So, not to thread jack, but I got to thinking recently: What is the role of a columnist as a "brand"? Specifically, I can't help but feel when I read certain columnists who have made their names well beyond the confines of the sports page of the newspaper, that their work has suffered.

    With all due respect, Bob Ryan's columns are not what they once were. Neither are Bill Plaschke's, nor Dan LeBatard's, and so-on and so-on. It seems to me that big-city sports columnists are getting pulled from all sides for guest spots and banter shows and radio appearances, and that atmosphere forces the columns themselves to suffer.

    With that said, let me clarify my question: Is it the role of the columnist to bring people to the paper, or is it the role of the columnist to write the best columns for the paper? If you could pick, Boswell and Jenkins or Wilbon and Kornheiser?
  7. sprtswrtr10

    sprtswrtr10 Member

    I'm the sports editor of a Big 12 daily, so I am frequently a columnist, but it's hardly all that I have on my plate. And, as I pondered the question, I realize I can answer it best by explaining what I go to other columnists for, and that's a unique insight, an explanation previously unconsidered, a great story in which the greatness lies in its genesis, rather than it's mere happening (it's mere happening is a feature or sidebar). If anybody else could have written the same story, then you lose all that. For example, in this region, the two best guys over time have been Joe Posnanski (my vote for best sportswriter, period) and Berry Tramel, who is never not interesting.

    And that's the thing.

    Many columnists just know everything and everybody after a lifetime of work, so they have authority, yet it's all they have. And still many others simply write sidebars with their pictures attached. God, I hate those, because anybody could have written the story. Some, I swear, do not have an opinion; or their opinion is so and so had a really good game but the beat writer can write that one up.

    But a really strong columnist doesn't need an opinion necessarily. If he comes at a story from a unique place, then he — or she; sorry about all the he(s) up to this point — has delivered.

    As for controversy, it doesn't have to be searched out. Come from a unique place and by definition, you're challenging the natural order of things and that, sometimes, will fuel controversy without courting it.

    So, that's it for me:
    Thought provoking
    Reasoned, but interestingly so.

    (And I think I'll take Boswell year round; but I want Kornheiser when he's really funny)
  8. BrianGriffin

    BrianGriffin Active Member

    That's fair. To me, there's an emotional or intellectual (if that's the right word) level that a columnist must reach with the reader to be effective. Don't just come out and support something. Give a compelling (intellectual) argument for the position that's going to etch into people's mind during a discussion. The argument doesn't have to be unique. But it never hurts that the columnists' take on the same argument be unique, if that makes sense.

    Don't just tell us how good a player is with stats, get us to "feel" how good the player is with anecdotes and story telling that illustrate the brilliance in a way stats and honors can't.
  9. sprtswrtr10

    sprtswrtr10 Member

    What Brian Griffin said.
    Especially that last part.

    Any strong columnist should be telling the story as only he or she can tell it.
    Not the way gobs of others would tell it if only they had the chance.
    There's an IT factor.

    Some have it.
    Most don't.
  10. Mike Nadel

    Mike Nadel Member

    A columnist should be interesting and insightful and intelligent. He or she should not be controversial for the sake of being controversial but should be able to make such a strong argument, take such a strong stance and be such a superior storyteller that his/her column evokes emotion from readers.

    I know BrianGriffin was being hilarious in his first post, but there are no good columnists who simply glom off their fellow staffers. A good columnist works his/her ass off and the heart and mind of a reporter.

    Having a good sense of humor and being able to make readers laugh is a nice bonus. Being truly funny is very difficult. The columnists who can pull it off are golden.
  11. Mike Nadel

    Mike Nadel Member

    A good columnist also has a good editor. I dropped a word in my post: "has" the heart and mind of a reporter. No wonder I'm no longer a columnist.
  12. Gator

    Gator Well-Known Member

    Jay Mariotti isn't convinced by this post.
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