Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Free-Lance Column Usage on the Rise?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Free-Lance Column Usage on the Rise?

Article excerpt

Papers employ them to save money or bring in more local voices

Free-lance columnists aren't as visible as staff, syndicated, or news- service ones, but their ranks may be expanding. "It seems to me that newspapers are using more of them," said Cathy Gillentine, a free-lance columnist for the Texas City (Texas) Sun. "They don't want to spend the money to staff a columnist position."

Indeed, some papers use free-lance columnists to save on salaries and benefits --meaning, of course, that some full-time jobs are being eliminated. But other papers use free-lancers to supplement, not replace, staff columnists.

That's the case with The Capital Times, Madison, Wis., which has used four free-lance opinion columnists for the last decade or so. "The big thing for us is getting more local voices in the paper," said Managing Editor Phil Haslanger, who's also president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers (NCEW).

Haslanger said the four include a journalist, lawyer/ former political candidate, and university person. They each write twice monthly and, like many free-lancers, are paid on a per-column basis.

Ogden, Utah, Standard-Examiner Editorial Page Editor Don Porter has used eight free-lance columnists for the past couple of years, with each writing once every four weeks. "It's a lot more expensive to use locals, but I think a good mix between local and national voices serves the readers," he commented.

Op-Ed/Sunday Editor Bob Davis said the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram in August began devoting the entire Monday Op-Ed page to free-lancers writing mostly on state and local issues. "The aim is to give readers better access to the pages," said Davis, adding that he tries to "match expert with topic," that turnaround can be quicker than with staff columnists who may have to do research before writing, and that the free-lancers (including a Latino social worker and an engineer/transportation activist) offer fresh perspectives. Some do require "a great deal" of editing, he said.

For free-lance columnists who are professional writers, it can be hard making a living without a salary and benefits. But some still welcome the opportunity, or are at a stage in their lives when they would not be working full-time anyway. …

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