How To Write a News Column

A news column is a journalist's time to connect to the community on a personal level that is not possible with day to day objective news writing. Columns are often written in first person and can contain experiences from the writer's life, or simply the writer's opinion on a topic.

  1. Keep a personal tone. This is your time to reach out, so make sure to let the reader know that these opinions are coming from you. This is also important because the newspaper itself may not agree with the opinions stated. It is also not a good idea to go against the grain of the newspaper. If the newspaper in question endorses candidates, do not write a glowing opinion piece about the opposing candidate.
  2. Don't make unnecessary enemies. I once wrote a column about the scant hours that local antique stores were open and how it would be better if they weren't "always closed." This caused a firestorm of phone calls and letters from antique store owners demanding a retraction. In a small- to mid-sized community, the members of the community are extremely important to the newspaper, and they should not be alienated unless there is an extremely good reason. You also have to remember that those are your potential advertisers. Cost the paper a few ads and you may be looking for a new job.
  3. Use a little humor. People often read columns because they expect them to be humorous and unexpected. If you can make readers laugh, even in the course of a political opinion column, you will start to make a name for yourself as a columnist as readers await your next piece. The humor should be subtle, and perhaps based on local events that the public would know about. This gives it a personal edge and the feeling of an in joke that the community can share.
  4. Keep on a relevant topic. The column will get a much better reception if it is about something the community knows about and is interested in, or something that you can bring to their attention that they will want to know about. There are a lot of columns out there about the writer's dog (done it), about doctor's appointments (seen it), and other things that are probably only interesting to the writer's family. An opinion piece about local news has many different paths it can take--a new aspect of the story that has not been covered, or simply an analysis with some emotion to it.

  5. Watch your column inches. When writing a regular news story, the number of column inches you are given doesn't matter as much, as it will likely be edited by an inch or two later anyway. If the story runs long, it can be edited without taking out the important facts. But a news column can change drastically with small edits, as the important points are much more subjective. What is the most important point to you may be seen as irrelevant to an editor and chopped to cut the size. Make sure to use exactly the number of inches you are given and never go over.


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