Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Columnists Don't Just Write Columns

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Columnists Don't Just Write Columns

Article excerpt

There's more to being a columnist than writing columns.

You might also self-syndicate to other papers, write feature stories, author books, give speeches, appear on radio and TV, teach courses, judge contests, and more. In short, you're a celebrity with all the opportunities and responsibilities that entails.

But how much can you do--and still maintain a personal life? What are the pros and cons of syndication? Should you get paid for talking to local groups? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel at the recent National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) convention in Snowbird, Utah.

"We all work seven days a week," said session moderator Diane Ketcham of the New York Times. "If we're not writing, we're thinking of ideas."

So is there enough time to do other things? Well, Ketcham has written a book, judged contests, appeared regularly on a PBS talk show, and more. But she doesn't give as many speeches as she used to.

"I spoke to every group, and had very little private time," recalled Ketcham, who added that she often wasn't paid. Now, the columnist usually asks for a fee when she does agrees to speak.

Barbara Robinson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal said that when she worked as an attorney, virtually every group inviting her to speak assumed she should be compensated. But after becoming a columnist, Robinson was often asked to speak for free.

"They must think columnists are overpaid," joked the panelist, who did emphasize that her speeches and radio appearances help build an audience for her column.

Other panelists said they don't mind speaking without compensation.

"I don't ask for pay," said Steve Clark of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "I consider it part of my job. But I try to limit it to one or two talks a week."

"The Oregonian pays me well," added Jonathan Nicholas, referring to his Portland-based paper. "Everything I do outside the column is to draw readers rather than to make money."

For Nicholas, that includes frequent speeches and many TV show appearances.

Several other speakers agreed that giving free talks can build good will for a column and newspaper--and spare the paper from any obligation to an organization it might write about in the future.

In some cases, columnists who do get paid for speeches don't keep the money

Roberta de Boer of the Toledo, Ohio, Blade noted that her paper has a speakers' bureau, and that any payments go to charity

Sheila Stroup of the New Orleans Times-Picayune said that if she receives an honorarium, she gives it to a local woman who is struggling to raise her late sister's eight kids. Stroup has written several columns about this woman. …

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