A column is the ultimate in journalistic freedom. It lets the Writer indulge in creative expression and personal opinion that would not be tolerated in any other kind of story.
The columnist can pass judgments, make recommendations, talk about himself or herself and otherwise violate most of the accepted tenets of newswriting.
In broadcasting- the counterpart to the political column in the newspaper is often the commentary. Here too the rules can be broken, and often are.
CHARACTERISTICS OF COLUMNS
The feature, the column and the editorial are sometimes hard to distinguish; qualities of each cross over and intermingle. But columns offer an opportunity for variety in content that no feature Ctr editorial can approach.
Editorials generally deal with topics of news significance; features often focus on events and people in the news. Columns can range from the philosophical to the whimsical. The column always carries the writer’s byline and, in some cases, the writer’s photograph.
Columns appear at regular intervals and usually in the same location in the publication, so loyal readers will know where to find them. Columns may be subject oriented, such as those on hobbies or crafts. Or the column can be a reflection of the writer’s personality, offering humor, opinion, anecdotes.
Columns given readers a variety of writing styles rarely found in features and editorials. Columnists can and do use the language any way they want to. Sometimes, in fact, the unconventional style they use becomes a signature, an identifying characteristic. Copy editors handle columnists gingerly .
Columnists are not intended to be “news” in the traditional sense. Political columnists do write about timely topics, but they are generally read for their personal presentation. rather than for the factual content. Columnists inspire fierce loyalty. This is especially true of sports columnists, many of whom command top dollar because of the sizable audience they can deliver.
One disgruntled, may be jealous, reporter complained that sports columnists for newspapers were now-offering options on their talents each season and dealing through agents for six-figure contracts.
In major metropolitan markets, that’s only a slight exaggeration. The other stars among local columnists are the entertainment and society columnists. They have name and face recognition and get their phone calls returned-even by the famous and near famous. Unlike features or editorials, which usually require considerable background and experience, columns can be written by the newest member of the staff. You need creativity, ambition and a conviction that what you have to say is interesting to others.
WRITING THE COLUMN
Do you have a special interest that intrigues you, motivates you and consumes at least some of your leisure (and perhaps academic) time? Is it something you know more about than anyone around you? You could become a columnist.
Finding the topic is a starling point, but editors want evidence that you can write uniformly good copy over a period of time. They can’t afford writers whose work begins to weaken after 15 or even 50 pieces. To build a reputation, and to test your endurance, you might begin writing a column for your school paper or a local weekly.
If you’re any good, other publications in the area may request permission to reprint some of your pieces. If your work has appeal for a wide range of readers, you have a .chance of being looked’ at by still other publications and even ,syndicates
The successful columnist is one who has developed a personal style. No formula exists for cultivating this, but there are some general principles you can follow.
1. Look at the ordinary from a different vantage point. Give it a twist or turn it upside down.
2. Use humour. Columnists depend on interpretations of events to create humour. Other writers use amusing anecdotes and exaggerate for comic effect.
3. Express private thoughts. Let the public know that you share their concerns, pleasures and fears.
4. Personalize your column: Use specific names, places, events. Let readers identify with you 8S you wander through the community. Share ideas that you’ve picked up during kaffeeklatsches or golf matches or card games. 5. Be creative. Experiment with words and their meanings.
Play with sentence and paragraph structure. Build images. Be descriptive.
6. Use dramatic elements. Study good storytellers. Learn how A to build suspense to a climax.
7. Borrow techniques from fiction. Description and dialogue can re-create scenes and sharpen story lines.
8. Sharpen your vocabulary. Search for precise words. Don’t be content with coming close in the meaning of a word or sentence. Take the extra time with your writing to be exact.
9. Learn to listen to others. Careful observation and keen perception result in evocative writing. Ask questions and probe others’ interests.
10. Write for others. Though the subjects you choose are your own, your responsibility is to please your audience.
Pointing out the different structures of columns may seem a useless exercise, since column writing is so individual. However, six basic formats recur:
1. Q&A. The questions come from readers and the answers are supplied by the columnist, generally from his or her expertise, although some advice columnists often either cite or refer to other sources. The style can vary significantly.
2. Grab bag. Some columns are a collection of events coming up, awards handed out, gossip and anything else too small for a headline. However, more newspapers are abandoning these for a thematic grab bag.
3. Anecdote. Golumns built around a single anecdote take on the character of a mini-feature. Feature. A feature, usually a profile, is a common column format. The difference between this and a regular feature is the longer length of the regular feature (sometimes 2,500 words), and, sometimes, personal involvement of the columnist indicated by use of personal pronoun. Instructive.
The tone may vary from the simple directive approach to a more casual, informal style. The directions are always carefully written to eliminate ambiguity, and writers often give the material an “idiot run” to be sure there are no steps missing.
Informative. The informative column can provide very detailed information, like a how-to, but without the onetwo- three approach. Advice, recommendations, suggestions are given with illustrations to make a point clear.