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Columnist


Description

Columnists write or edit a regular column in a newspaper or magazine. The column is usually specialized in a certain area, such as humor, politics or advice. Columnists share information and ideas and often risque opinions on the topic they are writing about. They usually have a unique voice that separates them from other writers or columnists and they stick with their character writing style in every single column. Eventually, successful columnists develop a dedicated readership that looks forward to reading their daily, weekly or monthly columns. Therefore, columnists must stay on top of the game in order to deliver an interesting, thought provoking and sometimes humorous column for their eagerly awaiting readers.

Usually every aspect of a columnist's life is a potential story. They must consider issues that their readers can relate to and also want to read about and transform them into good works. Columnists, like journalists, research, investigate, interpret and communicate news and public affairs issues through newspapers and magazines. They investigate leads and news tips, read documents, observe events taking place at the scene, and interview people.

Columnists play an important role in our media-savvy society; compiling information and writing pieces that inform us about current local, national and international events, the conduct of public officials, corporate executives, special-interest groups and others who live in the limelight, in addition to personal stories. The ultimate goal in writing a column is to figure out how to present it logically and sometimes humorously, so that people can understand, enjoy and use it in their daily lives.

Some columnists specialize in fields such as health, business, sports, humor, science or religion and convert the specialized topic into a daily column. Columnists must create a format in which to compose their columns so that a level of uniformity exists and readers come to expect a certain type of column. Unlike, unbiased journalistic reporting, some columns lean more to being editorials, and offer a controversial opinion on an issue. Columnists are usually confined by specific word counts as the column is almost always around the same size.

Although columnists do offer opinionated and sometimes satirical viewpoints, they are still journalists and must provide accurate information. The reason accuracy is so important is to both to serve the public with correct news and because slanderous and libelous statements can lead to costly lawsuits. It is also important that they know about journalism ethics and laws related to journalism such as defamation law, but those principles are well covered in journalism school. It is crucial that columnists have a complex understanding of different cultures. Many columns are about diverse and interesting people, therefore columnists must also be culturally sensitive.
 
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Syracuse Communications

Communications@Syracuse is an online Master of Science in Communications from the world-renowned S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
 

Programs Offered:
  • Master of Science in Communications

 

 



  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$17,620
 
Median Salary:
$30,510
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$69,450

  Interests and Skills  
Columnists must be naturally curious and have a nose for news. When it comes to interviewing people, they should be interested and respectful about the answers and know what types of questions to ask. Obviously this also requires great people skills and written communication skills. They must also be open-minded, because they have to understand and see a story from both points of view in order to cover a story properly. Columnists also have extensive stamina that helps them cope with the pressures of the industry.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Collect local, national and international news through interviews, investigation and observation
  • Write columns for newspapers and magazines
  • Focus columns on specific subjects such as health, sports or arts
  • Write editorials and commentaries on topics of current interest to stimulate public interest and express the views of a publication
  • Write critical reviews of literary, musical and other artistic works based on knowledge, judgment and experience
  • Conduct interviews as part of research and carry out background research for stories or features
  • Discuss work with editors
  • May take photographs
  • Reply to readers' emails and letters
  • Columnists work both indoors and outdoors in a variety of conditions. Their work is usually hectic and stressful. Since they are under great pressure to meet deadlines, columns are often written with little time for preparation. Successful columnists may work in comfortable, private offices while others work in large rooms filled with the sound of keyboards and computer printers, as well as the voices of other reporters. When on location or conducting an interview, they may work in unpleasant situations, such as crime and accident scenes. Similarly, writing about wars, political uprisings, fires, floods, and similar disaster events can often be dangerous.
  • Actual working hours are irregular. As long as columnists get their work in on time for the deadline, there are no specified, regular hours. The work also requires traveling to locations in order to cover stories. For some columnists, the travel can be international.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Columnists typically work for newspapers, magazines, journals, Internet publications, governments and other publishers. Columnists are constantly meeting new people and traveling to sometimes foreign and exotic places. A columnist's career may include anything from reporting from war zones and crime scenes to interviewing world leaders, celebrities and street people. Most specialize in a particular area, once they are established.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Becoming a columnist takes many years of experience and journalistic writing. Except for advice or medical columns, where columnists are often medical doctors or psychiatrists, other columnists are generally experienced and successful journalists. Columnists may also advance to editorial, production and publishing positions. Since journalism is such a highly competitive industry, competition for a columnist position is tough. Nevertheless, columnists can move into related occupations such as technical writing, advertising copywriting, public relations and media consulting organizing large events, educational writing, fiction writing, screenwriting or editing.
 

  Educational Paths  
Most columnists have a university degree or college diploma in journalism or a related field, such as communications or English, however it is not one hundred percent crucial in certain areas of journalism. Newspapers, however, usually require some form of formal training at a minimum and a few years reporting experience just to get one's foot into the door. Some people get liberal arts degrees and then attend a one- or two-year postsecondary college program in journalism.

Columnists must possess a detailed knowledge of the geography, history, economy, politics, media law and social life of the communities and countries in which they work. They also need specialized knowledge in a particular area such as health or international politics. Newspaper and magazine columnists can gain practical experience by working on high school and university publications or small rural weekly publications.

Most columnists start at small publications or broadcast stations as general assignment reporters or copy editors. Large publications and stations hire few recent graduates; as a standard industry rule, they require all reporters to have at least several years of experience. Columnists suggest constantly writing, reading and practicing your column writing skills as a tool for success. Lately, there are so many places to get published as a columnist and have your voice heard, such as school publications and the Internet. The more practice one earns, the better chances they have of landing a job.

There are also many journalism scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships awarded to college journalism students by universities, newspapers, foundations, and professional organizations.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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