Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Lifetime Honor for Three-Dot Columnist

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Lifetime Honor for Three-Dot Columnist

Article excerpt

San Francisco may be Herb Caen's favorite city, but he was happy to travel north to Portland late last month.

It was then and there that he received the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Caen has done his "three-dot" local gossip feature longer than the lifetimes of many NSNC members. He became a San Francisco Chronicle columnist in 1938, when Franklin Roosevelt's presidency was not yet half over.

"It's been a long, strange, wonderful trip," said Caen, who is syndicated by Chronicle Features.

He went on to tell the NSNC audience that "columns have changed so much over the years." Caen said today's columnists use the first person more and are able to write more frankly about many things.

"We were edited for taste - whatever that is," remembered Caen. "You couldn't get away with anything in 1938, '39 and '40. I'm glad that went out the window."

He added that there was "no political correctness in those days," meaning that columnists could be racist, homophobic and more with little consequence.

Caen said he was "strongly influenced" by the late King Features Syndicate columnist Walter Winchell.

"It's a names column," Caen said of his Chronicle feature. "Names make the news. People love to see their names in the paper. Winchell taught me that."

Caen got to know Winchell fairly well over the years. "The better you knew him, the less you liked him"' he remarked.

The San Francisco columnist still uses a 40-year-old Royal typewriter that Winchell would have no trouble recognizing.

"I'm running out of parts," said Caen. "I have a guy who cannibalizes other typewriters. But I enjoy the feel of a typewriter. It's like a great piano."

When Caen was 65 about a dozen years ago, he was asked if he wanted to learn how to do his daily column on a computer. "Is that a joke?" he replied.

The speaker also talked about working as a Sacramento Union police reporter before joining the Chronicle. "I covered some hangings, and became anti-capital punishment"' said Caen. "I still am to this day."

Caen recalled that the Union office had a desk that was ostensibly used by Mark Twain. …

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