Newspaper, Paper or Plastic

My first “President’s Col­umn” for

Thank you for elect­ing me pres­i­dent of the National Soci­ety of News­pa­per Colum­nists. Didn’t you hear? I have not pub­lished a run­ning col­umn since Sept. 16, 2001.

Instead I’ve writ­ten at for nearly seven years. After the first year, the water warms up. Blog­ging is how I’ve coped with the reces­sion and the pan­ick­ing pub­lish­ing indus­try. We’re all attack­ing this dif­fer­ently. The ice­berg appeared so sud­denly. As pres­i­dent, I’ll help the NSNC help you.

We can­not reverse the value of your home, though.

I joined the NSNC in 1991, toward the end of its First Wave: staff colum­nists but also writ­ers like me, edi­tors or reporters with columns on the side. Through con­fer­ences and newslet­ters we gave one another advo­cacy, sup­port and edu­ca­tion, leav­ened with irreverence.

In the mid-1990s the Sec­ond Wave began to roll in, free-lance colum­nists from vet­er­ans to novices. The First Wave hung on, with more staff colum­nists join­ing. High jinks ensued.

The Third Wave has started. We added online-only columns to the annual con­test. Then we wel­comed blog-columns, where entries must be bound by com­monly accepted jour­nal­ism val­ues and honor the three-century his­tory of news­pa­per columns in tra­di­tion, for­mat, spirit and variety.

Impor­tant: The NSNC needs all three waves. The NSNC serves colum­nists every­where at all lev­els of expe­ri­ence, in all media and for­mats, through edu­ca­tion, sup­port and advo­cacy. A col­umn is a run­ning series of essays, from per­sonal to per­sua­sive, employ­ing research and report­ing or extend­ing to fan­tasy and satire. Writ­ten columns are the most com­mon, but audio and video essays are no less valid. Jour­nal­ism stan­dards and ethics are observed in columns.

A col­umn is a col­umn in essen­tially any media. It’s a tech­ni­cal term, medium, mean­ing can­vas, stone, paper, pix­els etc. News­pa­per as a medium is abstract. It always has had dif­fer­ent forms.

Decades ago, neigh­bor­hood sheets would be run off on mimeo­graphs (Google it) and be called X. In San Fran­cisco and Liberia, a few jour­nal­ists now write news and com­ment on chalk­boards call­ing them X. Our papers call their web­sites online X. and update sev­eral times a day like multiple-edition X — they’re all newspapers.

So we colum­nists board the good ship NSNC — lifeboat or yacht — and watch for ice­bergs. Maybe I’m think­ing arc­tic because it’s past 90 and not even noon yet in Arkansas.

– This col­umn was first pub­lished in the August 2010 edi­tion of The Colum­nist,
the monthly newslet­ter of the National Soci­ety of News­pa­per Colum­nists.

¶ Update of April 15, 2011: Hand­writ­ten news­pa­pers cre­ated and posted, rather than pub­lished, after Japan’s big earth­quake. The New­seum in Wash­ing­ton exhib­ited some of them.

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