Columnist in Search of a Column
For nine years, I wrote a column for the Chestnut Hill Local, a small Philadelphia newspaper. The old-school editor, Len Lear, was a gem, and I loved sharing my “slice of life” pieces with readers. “Everyday Matters” did not (even remotely) fund my kids’ college educations or my retirement, but it made me feel like a real, working writer. The paper was read far beyond its circulation area, thanks to the Internet, and I sometimes marveled at its reach. One column I wrote about my very favorite restaurant from VERY long ago, and the delightful, eccentric chef/owners, drew a lovely response, months later, from the restauranteurs' grown, far-away children. I learned that their parents had died, but it was so nice to re-connect with their family through my newspaper writing.
Then, suddenly, it was over. The paper changed direction, and my work, along with that of several other columnists, was no longer included. Instead, the Local publisher decided to focus entirely on things like neighborhood news and high school sports—a decision I obviously question, but there it is. It’s been more than a year since my swan song, and I am yearning for another column, somewhere. My blog is carried by newspapers in suburban Philly and coastal Delaware; however, I’ve yet to be asked to become a staffer. I do a good deal of other freelance writing for newspapers and magazines, but there’s something magical about having your own dedicated place and space.
I just joined the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and attended their virtual conference over the weekend. It was wonderful, both in terms of the presentations, and the members, a group that includes columnists for many large-circulation papers. The executive director of NSNC is Suzette Standring. Suzette, whose home base is suburban Boston, has had a widely-read syndicated religion column for years, and has also written many humor columns (religion! humor! my dream niches!) We began corresponding, and she is incredibly friendly and encouraging. In a world where there is so much cut-throat competition, it is refreshing to encounter such kindness and support.
Will I ever land another column? I certainly hope some news publication, somewhere, will be interested in my take on life. I know the industry is changing rapidly, and that loud rustling sound you hear is more and more newspapers “folding” (get it?). But there are still options for column writers, especially online, so my fingers remain crossed--a real challenge when typing.
Meanwhile, I will keep reading my favorite columnists, including Nick Kristof, Jennifer Rubin, Steve Lopez, Alexandra Petri and Dave Barry, and enjoying the unique perspective each of these talented folks brings to the news, and their general life observations too.
I don’t think of myself as a particularly gutsy gal, but then I recall this quote from the late great columnist Erma Bombeck: “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.”
So thank you, dear reader, for letting me show you one of my dreams.