Why aren’t newspaper columnists better bloggers?

Here’s one guy’s take, and I think he’s right.

In my case, though, I’ve tried to get my colleagues to start a blog at my day job, with no luck. Who knows, maybe that will happen -and honestly, this blog was a way for me to see how I might go about blogging for my day job.  But after nearly six years of columnizing, my brand is my name. Not Wendi Thomas with NAME OF DAY JOB HERE. Just Wendi Thomas.

I had my neck hugged in Schnuck’s grocery store today by a complete stranger who “loves my column.” And earlier on the morning of July 4, I had dozens of homeless men (!) who were eating breakfast at Westy’s (a volunteer effort coordinated by the wonderful folks at Lindenwood Christian Church) recognize me and tell me they read my column all the time.

Now, this is not to ignore the very real existence of  those readers who loathe me. (See Herenton, WW.) But maybe it’s because it’s the South – we’re still rather polite, so those who recognize me and hate me keep it to themselves and those who recognize me and love me hug me in the grocery stores.

Nice to get some love. Love feels good.

A job feels good too, if my boss or his boss (the head honcho) is reading this. Still loving the job. And benefits. Health benefits are great.

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8 thoughts on “Why aren’t newspaper columnists better bloggers?

  1. Rippa, that’s a good question. I think the differences are (in no order and acknowledging I haven’t eaten in 9 hours) – columnists usually have spent a decade or more writing professionally and to a relatively high standard before they are rewarded with the cushy job of columnist. I put in 12 years at three papers before I got this job. I also have a degree in journalism (it ain’t rocket science, I’d be the first to confess), but it does provide you with some fundamentals that good bloggers have too, but not all of them.
    Columnists get paid well, few bloggers do. Columnists have health benefits, full-time bloggers, not so much. I get a certain credibility by being published in the mainstream media; bloggers have to work harder to build their audience and credibility.
    I HAVE to come up with something of some substance twice a week; a blogger could get away with one post a week on toe lint and there are no repercussions.
    I’ve got a multi-million corporation that can promote my work – bloggers have to hustle and hard.
    There are COUNTLESS limitations on what I can do as a journalist – can’t put a campaign sign in my yard, can’t go to political fundraisers, can’t do anything that creates the appearance of impropriety – bloggers aren’t usually recognized at Schnuck’s like I am, so they’re free to have whatever kind of personal life they like.
    Columnists are edited, bloggers usually aren’t. (I mean, I have someone who reads my work before it’s published and suggests changes – all my attempts to get “Herenton makes my butt itch” into print have failed miserably.)
    But the feeling that you have something to say, something worthwhile to say, and that people might want to read it – that’s the same whether you’re a columnist or a blogger, and these days, I’m both.
    What do you see as the differences?

  2. I’m no columnist although I think I would love the job — I guess it’s the attention-whorism in me, and most bloggers (LOL). I’ve had conversations with folks who have a disdain for the blogosphere which often always seems biased against bloggers or blogging. But just like social media in this day and age, bloggers have come a long way and have become quite prominent.I would say it’s a symbiotic relationship in this day and age.

    I do see the major differences as you’ve pointed out, and I think you’re spot on with it.

    Couple questions: how different is your approach to blogging vs. one of your columns? Do you enjoy the freedom of blogging as opposed to what you do professionally? Or is it hard to shake those restraints haveing done it (writing) professionally as long as you have?

  3. Rippa – ooh, you give good conversation, boo! Watch yourself!

    I do think it’s a symbiotic relationship, or can be, but I understand the traditional journalists who are used to having their pulpit from which to proclaim not really digging on these young bucks without a degree, who haven’t had to do all the grunt work of newspapering that we have having the same kind of platform (or louder). It’s basically jealousy. I can acknowledge that.

    When I blog, I think I’m more me. My writing style is way more conversational, I don’t do much self-editing (maybe I should) but I am still cognizant of all the rules that are associated with my paying job. Don’t trip, I still got a mortgage to pay and I’m not trying to give them any reason to get rid of me in these tough economic times. So while there may be things I’d like to say about some topics, I can’t and won’t. Got to protect my main job first.

    I do watch what I reveal about my life – I always crack up when I meet people and they’re like – I feel like I know you!!! And I’m thinking – you know what I WANT you to know about me. Don’t get it twisted, it’s all calculated. All of it. Too many haters out there to be completely transparent as some bloggers are able to be. I do envy that freedom. I have TOOO many haters to be transparent.

    Oh, another difference between columnists and bloggers. Unless you’re like Daily Kos, you can’t just call up anyone and say, hey, I’m so-and-so and I have a blog and I’d like to interview you on such-and-such. I mean, you may get a call back, you may not. But working for the MSM, I’m much more likely to be able to access just about anyone I need to.

  4. You’re right, and I could understand how jealousy can play heavy on the minds of traditional journalists. Especially given the fallout of print media as it relates to the economy. I could imagine the “dues” one has to pay in journalism.

    As for your writing style? It is indeed conversational and I like that. I try to put a voice to blogs when I read, and yours has been pleasant. It’s also why I asked you months ago about opening up your comment section. Of course I can understand the type of hate you get. That said, I could see how this blog would be like a getaway of sorts.

    But don’t you love it though? Having the ability to rope readers in and only tell them so much about yourself?

    LOL

    Lately I’ve been bitten by the journalism bug. A friend of mine who writes for CQ politics and other publications is trying to encourage me to give it a shot. It sounds like fun, but for now the constraints as you’ve already laid out is something to seriously consider. I was talking to Toure on twitter recently and he was encouraging or should I say discouraging people from even attempting to pursue a career in journalism right now. The way he put it, things are really tough all over and it’s not a good idea to get in right now.

  5. You’re originally from Memphis, right? If so, what is the best thing about doing what you do here as opposed to elsewhere? Is Herrenton that strong of a pull to keep you here (LOL).

  6. Nope, not born and bred here, but my roots are deep here – and THAT is why I think I can do what I do here as opposed to anywhere else. I KNOW Memphis. People can say what they want about me, but Herenton was my superintendent. I went to school with his daughter (really classy woman). I KNOW these people. I’m no carpetbagger, coming in and taking potshots – this is my town and I think and hope that my true concern for its future comes through in my work.

    The thing I hate MOST about having my picture in the paper is the loss of anonymity. No one told me it’d happen, it completely caught me by surprise and I hate that I can’t go anywhere without being recognized. Think about it – if I were inclined to act a fool anywhere, I can’t. They’d be like – that girl from the paper came in here and CUT UP! So I have to be on my best behavior – or at least I feel like I have to be on my best behavior at all times. THAT SUCKS – and it keeps me from forming new friendships because I’m not sure who I can trust.

    I took your advice and the advice from a girlfriend and opened up comments. But I’m only posting ones I like, and if it’s something I don’t like, I will shred them with words and then block them. THAT kind of power, I love. My blog, my rules.

    Toure’s right – not a good time to go into traditional journalism. And few have figured out how to make a living blogging. And I’m not sure the income from an established site like CQ would be enough to be worth my time (of course, if I had no job, it’s all worth my time).

    My model, if I had to point to one, is dooce.com. She makes a living writing about her life as a mom in Utah (she’s actually from Memphis) and has written a couple books. She is getting PAID to write about how her kid acts up or her pregnancy or whatever, but her writing style is so captivating that she’s able to make a living at it. I’d LOVE to figure out how to do that – although, I have the perfect job now, so no complaints.

  7. That anonymity thing is a mugg isn’t it?

    Which leads me to this question: do you think being a Black woman in the industry you’re in, in the city you’re in has affected you in anyway? In other words, do you ever see yourself being held to a certain stereotypical perception be it by people inside and outside of your professional sphere?

    Also, if I remember correctly, when I moved here to Memphis 3yrs ago, I read your column and I believe it was one where you recently returned from Jamaica. If I remember correctly, you have roots there as well, no? I’m asking because myself I was born in Trinidad & Tobago, and not only am I trying to find some good food around here. But I’m also wondering how did you end up in Memphis as I’m always asked by people that I meet?

    P.S. I was born and partially raised there before moving to Brooklyn NY with my parents. After which I attended Indiana University, but yet people think I just got off the boat yesterday (LOL).

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