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Why the Pundit Deserves your Sympathy

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Newspaper opinion writers perform an important function. If they didn't, there wouldn't be so many of them because nobody would be reading them. And as a group ---often known as the commentariat --- opinion columnists can be powerful. (See generally a short but important study concerning British opinion writers published in 2008 by Julia Hobsbawn and John Lloyd: The Power of the Commentariat). But writing a weekly or twice-weekly newspaper column is hard, very hard. You have to have something other-than-trite to say; at least you hope so.  You have to write as elegantly as you can. And you have to hope that enough people read you or else the Editor will end your column.  Now, I know this from personal experience because for a good many years I supported myself as a columnist, once writing three columns a week for different newspapers on different subjects, all while trying to earn a degree in law.

But you don't have to take my word for it. On March 12, 2011, Frank Rich wrote his last column for the New York Times after 17 long years. Title: 'Confessions of a Recovering Op-Ed Columnist'. If you missed it, it is worth reading. For, it takes you into the kitchen of modern punditry no matter where it is practised. Key quote:

Safire, a master of the form, was fond of likening column writing to standing under a windmill: No sooner did you feel relief that you had ducked a blade than you looked up and saw a new one coming down. He thrived on this, but after 17 years I didn’t like what the relentless production of a newspaper column was doing to my writing. That routine can push you to have stronger opinions than you actually have, or contrived opinions about subjects you may not care deeply about, or to run roughshod over nuance to reach an unambiguous conclusion. Believe it or not, an opinion writer can sometimes get sick of his own voice.

Photo Credit: Alex Raventos (on Flickr)

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