Old Newspaper Days or What’s a Columnist to Do?

While reminiscing about old newspaper days, I rushed off to the library to look up some information on the County Post.  That weekly had some lively columnists, but the best of them was a talented writer from Delaware, Jim Nance.  Though not formally trained as a writer or a journalist, he was one of the best.  I, along with lots of other people, including politicians, would wait eagerly (or nervously) for the County Post to see who Jim was after in his weekly installments of “From the Hip.”   I still recall the I’d see at the local pick-up spots looking for the paper, which had an evening delivery schedule.  Some of those included local politicians.

Here’s the way the editor introduced the new columnist in the first 1996 edition:  “Jim Nance is a blue-collar family man with an ‘opinion about nearly everything.’  He and his wife of 19 years, Debbie, have two children.  He’s an avid hunter and grew up fishing on the Chesapeake Bay.  ‘Nobody loves this region more,'” he says.

I don’t know how much they paid him, but he was the op/ed writer that everyone wanted to read.  The fiesty contributo  took on almost anyone in authority and many previously untouchable issues, over time.  As I glanced through the bound editions at the library, it all seemed very famliar, almost as if they were out of today’s papers.  The slots were rattling around, some were pushing for charter government, and the various county and local boards were great for witty observer.  

Saying should we “keep him or dump him,” Wayne once asked readers to contact him with their thouths.  “. . . tell us what you think about political columnist Jim Nance.  Do you like the sharp barbs he has for elected officials?  Do you like his wry wit?  Or do you think he’s full of hot air and think he should keep his opinons to himself?  We want to know. . . ” 

Of course they kept him, but in his funny way he later wrote:  “To those of you who voted to spare me the executioner’s ax, I say, thank you.  It isn’t often that anyone gets a boost like the one I got from you people.  I feel like Jimmy Stewart at the end of “It’s a Wonderful LIfe.”  I shall try to be worthy of your support.  In order to keep me focused, your editor has leaned the ax right outside my door.  It should do your heart good to know that everyone answers to some, and I will answer to you.”

Come to think of it sounds like a good business strategy for the nation’s newspaper industry.  There was a time when writers like Bill Frank of the News Journal, H. L. Menchen (from an earlier time) and so many others had readers rushing to see what opinions they were putting forth.  At the county level, when Jim came up with particularly sharp pieces or sensitive ones, the mail man brought lots of letters for the editor to publish.

Wonder when we strayed from that style in America’s newspapers?


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