Thursday, March 22, 2012

a newspaper column that's about writing columns

This week's edition of the column for the St. Clair Times started as a good idea but got written in a hurry. You can probably tell. Enjoy, nevertheless, as much as you can. What you don't enjoy you can let me know about either here or on Twitter
Title this column and win nothing of any consequence

On my desk right now a list of potential column ideas. Very few of them are actually mine.

Truth be told, rarely does one have to do much brainstorming to come up with a column idea. Sometimes they fall into your lap with ease. But most of the time, people just offer them to you, unsolicited.

Not so long ago, I was sitting in a barbershop, with scissors near my head. I was pretty much a captive audience, in other words.

“I recognize you from the paper,” someone said. “Let me tell you what you should be writing about.”

The only place I can think that would be worse would be the dentist’s chair. Coincidentally, I was in the dentist’s chair once and heard the same thing.

“I think an article about (mystery subject X) would be great.”

It’s hard to argue with someone whose hands are in your mouth. The only real recourse would’ve been to bite her. But that’s just weird.

Many other suggestions for columns and stories come in via email, usually about some revolutionary new treatment for the common cold, a diet pill that will solve all my problems or a feature idea about a racecar driver with loose ties to the area.

And, of course, since it’s political season, I’ve received a number of different story ideas from campaign offices, most of which wonder why the “liberal elite media” is ignoring their opponents’ shortcomings.

(Note: It is one of my goals in life to reach a point in which I can be lumped in with these “elites” in the media that candidates are always slamming. Right now all of them take private planes and limousines to and from campaign events with their filthy-rich benefactors, and I can barely afford to dress myself on a daily basis. I guess that’s because I don’t know what it’s like to be a working class American or something.)

But, many of my story ideas also come from home. The other day while wheezing through a jog, I asked my wife (and running partner) what was the meaning of the orange bows on mailboxes in Leeds.

“No idea,” she said. “Shouldn’t you know that? Don’t you work for the paper or something?”

Ouch. By the way, I’m still trying to find that out, so if anyone knows … well, never mind.

The truth is, as we say here all the time, the newspaper only knows things if people let us know in advance. We can’t publish the details of someone’s track meet if we never knew the meet was taking place to begin with.

Then, last Saturday, during the Big Springs 5K, my wife (and running partner) asked me if I was listening to the conversations between parents and children taking place around me.

“This is all column gold,” she said.

And she’s probably right. But I could not breathe, at that point, so it’s best to save that for another day.

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