Since the local paper wants a second, non-court column out of me, I may as well get back to work here as well. Here, let me explain:
So there I was, minding my own business – for a value of “minding my own business” equal to “seeing if the paper still wanted to run Courtside” – at the Hermiston Herald, when, using “The Voice” – not to be confused with a TV show of the same name – the editor suddenly asked:
[ARE YOU INTERESTED IN WRITING A SECOND COLUMN FOR THE HERALD, WRITING ABOUT NON-COURT RELATED THINGS?]
Now the only way to describe The Voice to people who don’t work with editors on any sort of regular basis is to say that it’s like Darth Vader’s, but without any of his warmth and humor. The question, though, is “why would Herald readers want a second column?”
[YOU’RE AN OPINIONATED LOCAL GUY WHO CAN WRITE.]
Had to be a lucky guess, because I have absolutely no idea how the editor came to that conclusion about a bland and harmless little furball like myself, after only a few minutes of conversation.
[EXACTLY. A FEW MINUTES OF CONVERSATION WAS ALL IT TOOK.]
Like I said. Lucky guess.
[EDITOR-SENSE. IT’S LIKE SPIDER-SENSE. BUT WITH FEWER LEGS.]
Here’s the problem. The working relationship between editors and columnists can best be described as identical to the “working relationship” seen between lions and gazelles in any National Geographic program that carries the warning “Some Material Not Suitable For Children Under 40.” As an aside, I’d planned to describe the relationship as the one between the lion and the gnu, but apparently the editor still has some psychic trauma from a petting zoo incident in third grade.
Right. Moving on.
I’ve written and columned – if that’s a verb – for newspapers since high school. In my experience, working with newspapers involves working with information. Events of interest, analysis of ideas, ads for “desperate lion seeks tasty gazelle,” that sort of thing. Ultimately, newspapers are all about thinking. News for the basis, opinion for the structure, ads for tasty gazelles to pay the costs of printing. Good newspapers work to encourage readers to think about things (preferably about things other than gazelle recipes) and to take a general interest in life, the universe, and everything.
An important part of that encouragement requires the newspaper to have credibility. As I tell my public speaking students, credibility can come from many sources. Education, training, observation, all can play into establishing credibility. But one of the best forms comes from “personal experience.” How can a local paper achieve “personal experience?” Well, with local news and local opinion, for starters. People who can look out a window and have some idea as to what’s going on in Hermiston, as opposed to some columnist in New York City (or even Portland) who couldn’t find Hermiston with a map of Oregon and a ten minute head start.
Now, people write in newspapers all the time – we call those “letters to the editor.” Letters to the editor are the sorts of things that would warm the cockles of an editor’s heart, presuming editors had hearts, of course.
The reason that letters are so heartwarming is because it means people are reading and thinking about what’s in the paper. They don’t have to agree – oh, not in the slightest. In fact, some of the most interesting letters are ones that disagree with what an editor or a columnist has written! At least, disagreements that are thoughtful – “Your column of July 30th was complete and utter manure” is not a comment that is conducive to further discussion, sadly. Not unusual, just not conducive to dialog.
Which brings us to the question of the hour: Just what the heck will this new column be about?
[YOU’RE AN OPINIONATED GUY – YOU’LL THINK OF SOMETHING]
Called that one right. The new column – well, we’re going to test fire pretty much the whole world outside of the court and legal processes. Humor, history, news, economics, sociology – I can make your eyes bleed writing about sociology, ask my professors – just about anything in the world, except sports. There’s a whole sports section for sports comments and they don’t need any help from me there, thankyouverymuch. Dialog with letter writers, news bits that catch my eye, occasional “broader” issues, but the commentary is really supposed to be local. Can’t promise that it will always be, but feel free to fire up the ol’ word processor and complain to the editor about how the Off The Bench column is talking about events in Lower Absurdistan again, and that really doesn’t relate to Hermiston very well.
One other thing. Out of deference to the editor, we will not be discussing anything regarding the gnu.
Because, without doubt, as far as my editor is concerned – no gnus is good gnus.