#nsnc14dc: Columnists in the Capital & Beyond

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Speak­ers at the 38th annual con­fer­ence of the National Soci­ety of News­pa­per Colum­nists could be sep­a­rated into two gen­eral top­ics, with over­lap: Some focused on Wash­ing­ton and cap­i­tal news, and oth­ers on devel­op­ing of craft­ing and mar­ket­ing columns. Hence, two stories.

I can explain. Being immediate past president, I was welcomed to the opening June 26, 2014, of the NSNC hospitality suite by Marcia Tammeus, Annie Barr and Michelle Freed.

I can explain. Being imme­di­ate past pres­i­dent, I was wel­comed to the open­ing of the NSNC hos­pi­tal­ity suite by Mar­cia Tam­meus (from left), Annie Barr and Michelle Freed. Wash­ing­ton Plaza Hotel, June 26, 2014. Tracy Beck­er­man photo

I took a lot of notes and live-tweeted, except when I was called away. The fol­low­ing will com­prise head­ings then top quotes, anno­tated. Col­leagues posted to social media as well, and some of those are included.

“As Cur­rent As Cur­rent Affairs Get” — Dana Mil­bank, Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist, author, and fre­quent MSNBC and CNN commentator

Pol­i­tics and jour­nal­ism: “Speaker John Boehner has said do not mea­sure a Con­gress by how many laws they pass but how many laws they repeal. The num­ber of the lat­ter is zero.” “Wouldn’t Will Rogers be ter­rific on Twit­ter?” “Sourc­ing is over­rated. This town is sat­u­rated with jour­nal­ists, but what’s amaz­ing is how many just fol­low the pack.” “There’s a lot less edit­ing by neces­sity. There’s fewer edi­tors” due to lay­offs. Where does Mil­bank get top­ics? “A lot is in plain view. A lot is in doc­u­ments. There is a tremen­dous sup­ply of mal­ice. I let the event drive the col­umn.” “We sto­ry­tellers don’t need ‘Deep Throats.’ We just need our eyes.”

Advice to colum­nists: “‘Edi­tor bait’ [for break­ing in new edi­tors, is to] put in a line that’s com­pletely over the top. They can cut that and leave the line you want alone.” “In this envi­ron­ment, what is a news­pa­per colum­nist to do? I’m not even sure there’s such a thing as colum­nist. I am not iden­ti­fied as a colum­nist, but as an opin­ion writer.” “We’ve sort of reached the point where everyone’s a colum­nist and no one is a colum­nist.” “Old-fashioned shoe­leather jour­nal­ism is what will dis­tin­guish us [as colum­nists]. I think we can stick to our knit­ting and things will work out.”

“The Unique Joy of Being a Colum­nist” — Lewellyn King, writer of a weekly syn­di­cated col­umn and exec­u­tive pro­ducer and host of White House Chron­i­cles on PBS

What the Inter­net has taught us: The read­ing pub­lic didn’t want” so many fil­ters on infor­ma­tion from pro­fes­sional media. “The Inter­net tends to be peo­ple try­ing to say every­thing at once.” “We are allow­ing our­selves to be licensed. Those press passes” are an exam­ple. “The first ratch­et­ing down of our free­dom [by both par­ties] was dur­ing the Carter admin­is­tra­tion. When they started hav­ing a third per­son present dur­ing inter­views.” “The insti­tu­tional mem­ory is fail­ing not just in gov­ern­ment, it’s fail­ing in jour­nal­ism.” “We’re down to the mol­e­c­u­lar level,” about the amount of polit­i­cal cov­er­age in Wash­ing­ton. “Every line that is writ­ten and read is worth writing.”

“Pol­i­tics, Prose and Career Longevity” — Suzette Mar­tinez Stan­dring, syn­di­cated colum­nist, 2004-06 NSNC pres­i­dent and author of the recently pub­lished The Art of Opin­ion Writing

The art of per­sua­sion — what opin­ion, humor and lifestyle columns have in com­mon.” “One goal of opin­ion writ­ing is to offer a per­spec­tive not offered else­where.” Clarence Page said, “In print, the lead counts, in broad­cast­ing, it’s how you end. Because that’s what peo­ple remem­ber.” Con­nie Schultz said, “Believe in your vision. Do not let oth­ers define you.”

“Writ­ing a Col­umn: The Agony and the Ecstasy” — Craig Wil­son, writer of the pop­u­lar “The Final Word” col­umn for USA Today until spring 2013

The best columns come in 15 min­utes. The worst come in three days. And the read­ers always know it.” “All of you know that writ­ing a col­umn is an ego thing. And the fact that peo­ple are pay­ing you is really quite amaz­ing.” “The whole thing about a col­umn is relat­ing to other peo­ple. … And you never know what is going to get a reader going.” “What hap­pens when you don’t have an idea for a col­umn? You don’t have that lux­ury.” “The last refuge of a colum­nist is to write about their dog.”

“How to Write Con­vinc­ingly About Race with 21st Cen­tury Tech­nol­ogy” panel — Richard Prince, colum­nist on news media diver­sity issues for the May­nard Insti­tute for Jour­nal­ism Edu­ca­tion; Rhonda Gra­ham, colum­nist, edi­tor and edi­to­r­ial writer for The News Jour­nal in Wilm­ing­ton, Del.; Mary C. Cur­tis, award-winning mul­ti­me­dia jour­nal­ist and con­trib­u­tor to The Wash­ing­ton Post; and Pro­fes­sor Yan­ick Rice Lamb of the Howard Uni­ver­sity Depart­ment of Media, Jour­nal­ism and Film. (Prince took great notes.)

Prince: “Know what you’re talk­ing about.” “Some phrases are dyna­mite. Lan­guage is a weapon. Peo­ple try very hard to make us use their lan­guage.” “There’s no such thing as reverse dis­crim­i­na­tion. It’s just discrimination.”

Cur­tis: “Don’t have lunch at the same place with the same peo­ple every day. Go to a movie in a dif­fer­ent neigh­bor­hood — to help you be on top of sto­ries. Live a diverse life as well.” “Many of you will have dif­fer­ent chal­lenges than we have. You may feel awk­ward about enter­ing the debate — anx­ious not to say some­thing you shouldn’t. But if you write and report with sin­cer­ity, com­plex­ity and nuance, that should be enough.” “Don’t just para­chute into a com­mu­nity when something’s hap­pened. Sources will be more open if you con­sis­tently cover these com­mu­ni­ties. Your columns will have more depth as well.” “Don’t just para­chute into a com­mu­nity when something’s hap­pened. Sources will be more open if you con­sis­tently cover these com­mu­ni­ties. Your columns will have more depth as well.” “Know what you don’t know — don’t be afraid to ask ques­tions. That’s what we do. You can break new sto­ries and make some new con­tacts.” On polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness: “You want to be true to your­self and the story but you also want to be clear. Poten­tial read­ers put off or offended by lan­guage may miss the point you are try­ing to make.”

Gra­ham: “For a full per­spec­tive, know the black politi­cian, as well as the black bar­ber or mechanic.”  “Don’t show up only dur­ing pub­lic tragedies.” “Keep tabs on the valu­able com­mu­nity events — beyond Black His­tory Month.” “Con­stantly, we must make deci­sions that keep us authen­tic about our own point of view, when we are right, as well as when it turns out that our view is in error and is chal­lenged. This is the best way to approach and gain entry into unfa­mil­iar worlds and cul­ture.” “I defend the right to use a word that is com­fort­able for me. If I use such words, then you have to be com­fort­able with my response.” “It’s more impor­tant to be heard than to win.”

Some quotes above were taken from the live tweets and Face­book posts of Tracy Beck­er­man, Richard Prince, Teri Rizvi, Nikki Schwab and Bill Tam­meus. Thanks, friends.

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Pre­vi­ously pub­lished, in slightly dif­fer­ent form, in the July 2014 issue of The Colum­nist, the mem­ber­ship newslet­ter of the National Soci­ety of News­pa­per Colum­nists.

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