On Column Writing | Daily News

On Column Writing

The ‘I’ factor creeps into my writing when I attempt to be a columnist. It may sound personal or seemingly an attempt to promote myself through these columns.

As opposed to the modest editorial ‘we’, I very often use the personal pronoun. In fact, when I was editing the ‘Culture’ page for ‘The Island’ in the 1980s, editor Gamini Weerakoon used to caution me on many times to write impersonally. But I couldn’t and cannot. The reason is this: Using ‘I’ is more intimate, personal, objective and subjective, sincere and most of all, it helps to record events or history particularly when you yourself are a part of the literary scene.

And if others fail to mention your own contribution for some reason or the other (as the compilers of ‘A Lankan Mosaic’ did, one has to say things personally, if it is to be not forgotten or denied. Hence reminiscences of the past are also important. Further, if the style is the man, writing in simple style with active voice and connecting flow of related thoughts make it understandable and interesting to the average reader.

After all, column writing is not academically oriented. It’s conversational, light and purposeful. It’s basically informative and on occasions analytical. Well then, who is a Columnist in a newspaper or magazine? A columnist writes a regular column with a title or name and a byline.

Often a photograph of the columnist accompanies each day or week. In Lanka, this is not being done for all the columnists, but in neighbouring India, it is done. Many columnists become personalities in their own right. Depending on the specific publication, the frequency varies - daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, periodically.

I use to enjoy reading William Safire’s columns in the New York Times. Columnists write on a variety of subjects, depending on their specialities. These columns could be serious or humorous, analytical, literary, sundry etcetera. They develop their own unique ideas for columns with interesting angles. They write and report general news, represent the publication at social or press functions.

In the U.S., a columnist can earn between $ 18,000 and $ 100,000 or even more annually. That all depends on who writes for whom. It is estimated that Syndicated Columnists in major publications might have earnings near $ 100,000 or more, annually.

A bachelor’s degree, preferably majoring in Journalism, English, Communications or related fields is invariably a prerequisite.

Any type of writing experience is useful. They must have excellent writing skills and a good command of the language. They must also be able to write clear, crisp and interesting copy with unique hooks and angles. Many columnists start as reporters or other types of journalists, then move up the career ladder.

If we are not familiar with the internationally known columnists, are we reading our Lankan in various Lankan English language publications? We have some very famous columnists in every field of activity: Editorial, Law, Education, sports, arts and so on.

I first read the columns I like in a newspaper on subjects I want to gather more information about and then switch on to my favourite lifetime preoccupation, that is Literature and the Cinema.

In the major newspapers, a number of columnists feed me with a lot of information, knowledge and pleasure of reading their styles of writing.

Sometimes I feel that I cannot write like them because their personalities are their style of writing. I prefer to write to the uninitiated, especially school children, rather than in-depth using abstruse language. I prefer a simple, lucid style as I am an ageing simple man.

However, it gives me pleasure to communicate with all readers.

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