They Pick Their Wish-List Columnists: Syndicate Executives Name the Politicians, Entertainers and Other Famous People They Would like to Sign

By Astor, David | Editor & Publisher, April 11, 1992 | Go to article overview

They Pick Their Wish-List Columnists: Syndicate Executives Name the Politicians, Entertainers and Other Famous People They Would like to Sign


Astor, David, Editor & Publisher


What do Woody Allen, Ben Bradlee, Barbara Bush, Jonathan Demme, Sarah Ferguson, David Henry Hwang, Jamica Kincaid, Bette Midler, Richard Nixon, Antonia Novello, H. Ross Perot, Joan Rivers, Sam Shepard, Steven Spielberg, Margaret Thatcher, and Faye, Wattleton have in common?

They are some of the well-known people syndicate executives came up with when asked who they would want as their "dream" columnists.

Of course, it would be tough to convince most of these people to do a newspaper column. Yet signing them would be a piece of cake compared to getting Madonna and Mother Teresa to collaborate on a point-counterpoint feature offering sex advice to teens -- the suggestion of a syndicate executive who asked to remain anonymous.

Other interviews, jokingly expressed a desire to sign either God or Elvis Presley -- two objects of worship who would not quite fit E&P's requirement that the wished-for columnists be alive.

"I'd like to have God write a column or 10-part series and describe heaven and hell to us," stated King Features Syndicate executive editor Tom Pritchard, although he added that today's bad economic climate and the cynicism of some newspaper editors might make the Lord a tough sell.

On a more serious note, Pritchard said he would love to see an ongoing weekly column by whoever is the current president of the United States. He noted that this feature would be written by the president himself or herself and talk about personal rather than very political things (sort of like what first lady Eleanor Roosevelt used to do for United Features Syndicate).

"I think a column like this would go a long way toward humanizing the office and giving insight into the man or woman who was president at the time," commented Pritchard.

One man whose reporters helped bring down a president -- former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee -- is a columnist choice of that newspaper's syndicate.

"I think a lot of people would be interested in what Ben has to say," commented Washington Post Writers Group editorial director/general manager Alan Shearer.

Would Bradlee talk about journalism in this hypothetical column? "He could talk about anything," responded Shearer.

So is Bradlee willing to join the WPWG roster? "I think he's a legend, but he's too big a legend to write a column," Shearer said with a laugh. "He doesn't need to write a column. He's too busy." Among Bradlee's current activities is serving as vice president at large of the Post newspaper.

Shearer reported that the idea of a column came up in a conversation he had with Bradlee, but "Ben made it clear he had no interest."

The politician the Post helped bring down -- Richard Nixon -- was one of the columnist choices of New York Times Syndicate (NYTS) president John Brewer. "I would love to see him," he said. "This guy has really come back."

Brewer noted that Nixon "enthralls" newspaper editors when addressing them at conventions.

NYTS asked Nixon about signing on. but the answer was no. "He said he just wants to do books, not columns," reported Brewer.

Actually, material by Nixon was distributed by what is now North America Syndicate (NAS) back in the mid- 1980s, but it was not a regular column.

Brewer would like to sign another former national leader, Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain. "She is a hard-nosed politician with a very witty style," he said.

One world-famous leader NYTS did recently launch into syndication was Mikhail Gorbachev (see E&P, February 29)--a "dream" columnist come true. Creators Syndicate president Rick Newcombe was one of several executives who said he would have loved to sign Gorbachev, and Newcombe added that he wouldn't mind syndicating Pope John Paul II, either.

NAS does offer "Selected Observations" of the pope edited by the Rev. Joseph Vadino. But that feature, launched when Newcombe headed NAS in 1985, does not exactly require the pope to sit down each week at a VDT (Vatican Display Terminal? …

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