Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Syndicates: 'War Torn' before Column Was Born

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Syndicates: 'War Torn' before Column Was Born

Article excerpt

How did Tad Bartimus become a columnist? By traveling a long road that included nearly 25 years of news and feature writing for The Associated Press, and more than 30 years of living with a major illness contracted soon after landing in Vietnam as an AP correspondent.

"It really changed my life and options," Bartimus said of her autoimmune condition, likely caused by Agent Orange. For a time, it looked like her affliction had ended her career in journalism. Instead, it led her to create "Among Friends," the weekly column that often

connects her personal experiences with major issues in the news. "I write about everything, but I do it in a small-focus way people can relate to," said Bartimus.

In one recent piece, the Hawaii-based columnist recounted trying to save a newborn calf who fell 30 feet down a mountain during a downpour. Bartimus' effort was difficult due to the weather and her health, but she wrote that the late John Paul II had said that what matters in life is not what people say, but what they do.

Earlier in the spring, Bartimus recalled the experiences of her dying father as she criticized politicians like Tom DeLay for "butting in on what should be a private matter" in the Terri Schiavo case.

Missouri-born Bartimus was a four-year veteran of AP -- reporting from Kansas and then Florida -- when her desire to cover the Vietnam War brought her to Southeast Asia in May 1973. The next month, while visiting a defoliated area, she breathed in toxins that poisoned her. Bartimus pushed herself to continue working despite her illness, and stayed in Vietnam for AP until May 1974. (She chronicled her year in a chapter of War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam, published by Random House in 2002.)

Bartimus spent nearly two more decades at AP -- becoming the wire service's first female bureau chief (in Alaska), taking on other assignments in the United States and abroad, and winning many awards (as well as two Pulitzer Prize nominations) along the way. But in 1993, she was finally forced to leave after her body could no longer handle the daily rigors of journalism.

Then three years spent teaching at the University of Alaska also proved to be too demanding, as Bartimus tried to give her all to students while periodically battling inflammations, pneumonia, asthma, and other elements of her condition. She also missed writing.

In 1996, Bartimus and her husband -- journalist-turned-teacher Dean Wariner -- moved to a rural area of Hawaii. They had been there on a number of occasions, and found that her health improved each time. "I do well here," she said during a phone interview from the Aloha State.

Bartimus' husband quickly found a full-time position teaching sixth grade, but she was still jobless. "The day Dean started, I packed his lunch, and, after he left, asked myself, 'Now what?'" she recalled.

Luckily, Bartimus had many journalism friends and colleagues who encouraged her to keep writing, but it took two years to find a column voice after a career of stories not written in the first person. She began self-distributing "Among Friends" in 1998 (via her Women Syndicate) and signed 30-plus newspapers -- leading four major syndicates to express interest. "I felt like a prom queen," joked Bartimus, who decided United Feature Syndicate would be her partner.

"Tad's a very interesting writer who can talk to readers like she's sitting on the porch with them," said United Managing Editor Neil Gladstone, adding that she skillfully combines "personal insight" with commentary on "big-picture" issues. …

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