Just Above Sunset
July 24, 2005 - Columnist = Good and Blogger = Not so Good?

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Book Wrangler

July 24, 2005

By Bob Patterson


How is it that that the newspaper industry spawned columnists, but seem unwilling to accept blogging?  Weren't the pioneer columnist actually blogging in print?


Eric Alterman, in his 1992 book Sound & Fury: The Washington Punditocracy And The Collapse Of American Politics ($23 HarperCollins), provides the background information about how political columnists rose to a position of power and influence starting with the story about the career of Walter Lippmann.  Alterman notes that before the colonies fought for independence, the politicians, journalists, pundits, and pamphleteers were usual the same guys filling multiple roles in society.


Alterman relates that Horace Greeley hired a foreign correspondent, named Karl Marx, to supply news accounts from overseas to his newspaper The New York Tribune.


Eventually there were a great many columnists in the newspapers of the United States.  Since newspapers covered local topics as well as national and international news, many columnists developed a tendency to promote civic pride for the city where they were based.  Walter Winchell was synonymous with Broadway and New York City.  Herb Caen was a living representation of San Francisco. 


Some columnists, like Winchell and Caen, developed a style of presenting many different items in rapid succession and were christened "three dot journalism" because they often used and ellipse … you know those three dots that indicate a pause or a change of direction in the thought process.


Sometimes a columnist would publish a collection of his columns just like singers would do a "best of" album.  Sometimes the columnist would use a book to write about subjects that needed more space than a column provided. 


Earl Wilson, in his 1974 book Show Business Laid Bare (list price unknown, G. P. Putnam), used a book to present details about stories that were too lurid to print in a column that appeared in a family newspaper.  Readers could read about how the columnist interviewed Cheri Calfaro while she was wearing only two necklaces and high heel shoes (with six pictures in the photo section just in case you wanted to see how much taller than Wilson she was.)  He covered (so to speak as it were) an interview with the first topless secretary (who was also bottomless wearing only a watch).


Jack Smith, in his 1989 book Alive In La La Land ($18.95 Franklin Watts), candidly tells the readers that, "Most of the pieces in this book appeared first in the Los Angeles Times."  It's was probably easier for folks in places like Concordia Kansas who might want Smith's take on LA to get the book than to subscribe to a newspaper some thousand miles away.


Aren't the contents of Hunter S. Thompson's 1988 book, Generation Of Swine ($19.95 Summit Books), a collection of his columns?  The dust jacket dances around that question by stating: "Thompson has been keeping a journal in the pages of the San Francisco Examiner for the past two years, providing wicked commentary on a country gone wildly astray.


Mike Royko's book Like I Was Sayin' … ($15.95 E. P. Dutton) of one hundred of his best columns 1966 to 1984, raises the question: was the material in Up Against It, I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It, Slats Grobnik And Some Other Friends, and Sez Who? Sez Me! also his best - or did they have some less than best items?


William Safire expands on his "On Language" columns by including information and comments provided by letters from his readers for the books What's The Good Word? (no price listed, Times Books), published in 1982, and On Language (no cover price, listed Times Books) from 1980.


Obviously columnists provide literary, and sometimes opinionated, material that usually was written with a great deal of freedom and lack of supervision.  Some columnists allegedly have had very strong control over any changes that might be made to their copy.  So why then do newspapers react so negatively to the opportunity to augment their websites with bloggers, who are essentially going to be only an new stage of the evolution of columnists?


Will material that originally was published electronically online be collected into books?  That might be a bit of a challenge for some blog material since often there are links to take readers to other websites that offer either more material or the original source material for a quote.  Providing a book's readers with that bit of fact checking options might be difficult, but perhaps, like an collection of notes at the end of a non-fiction book (the notes for the hardback edition of Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich start on page 1145 and run to page 1177 and are followed by a bibliography that goes from page 1181 to 1191), a book of material that was originally published via an online blog, could also include a companion CD that has all the links available for those who wish to use them?  It would be like an electronic version of the notes at the end of a scholarly nonfiction book.


"Reader greed" might explain why in the Conglomerate Age, publishers don't wish to provide their audience with a myriad of opportunities to stray away and not return, but if they do enough marketing research, they might learn that some of the most successful online sites provide their readers with the most links.  At that point, they will have to ignore their inclination to keep the readers "on campus" and let the creative side do something that attracts a larger audience by defying logic. 


Have you noticed that fewer folks these days are saying "If God meant for humans to fly; they would have been born with wings?"  Is the newspaper blog-phobia just a case of Accounting Department Luddites?  Sometimes those beancounters can be so antediluvian … much to the detriment of progress.


Maybe when the first book to contain blogged material is published and becomes a best seller, those reluctant business executives will change their mind. Until then, they can be like the kid who sat up all night wondering where the sun went.  Then, suddenly, it dawned on him.


Some current books by columnists include:

Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose  ($24.95 Random House)


Who Let the Dogs In? Incredible Political Animals I Have Known by Molly Ivins ($22.95 Random House)


Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose ($11 Vintage)


Bushworld by Maureen Dowd ($15 paperback Berkley Trade)


Don't know if this guy is a columnist or not, but we'll plug his book:


Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme by Calvin Trillin  ($12.95 Random House)


Walter Lippmann has been quoted in Bartlett's as saying: "Responsible journalism is journalism responsible in the last analysis to the editor's own conviction of what, whether interesting or only important, is in the public interest."


Now, the disk jockey would like us to conclude this week's column and vamoose while he plays Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show's hit song, Cover Of The Rolling Stone.  Until the next installment of this e-column, have a week that would get folks who read about it in Walter Winchell's column (if they could) to think that you've been naughty!




Copyright 2005 – Robert Patterson

Email the author at worldslaziestjournalist@yahoo.com




Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....