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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