If I had to choose one word to describe what I took away from this year’s National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ conference, it would be “urgency.” For sixteen years, I have had a weekly column. It currently runs in five papers. In the beginning, I called it “The Honeycomb” because I wanted my stories to be “sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” I considered it a reader’s respite from the news.
I believe there is still a place for those articles, but with my major life changes these past three years, I have been restless. I grew tired of having a column described as “cream puff.” And then due to an angry reader’s legal threats, I lost it altogether for eight months. It was one more blow to my identity. But on the other hand, I was already weary of my writing, and had struggled to revamp my column.
As I listened to the various speakers at the conference, many Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, I was inspired by the work they do. But I also felt a bit of despair. I knew I could never write in the sort of strong voice that makes people sit up and take notice of the issues. Due to the repressed life I used to lead, I am only now learning many things. For example, I can’t always connect current events with historical happenings because I simply never had that information stored in my brain. I’ve attempted to be a bit edgier and make bolder statements, but I fear looking ignorant if I tackle the bigger issues.
I spent the conference jotting down names and references so I could look them up later and connect the dots. I have a couple of people in my life who patiently field my questions on topics that to most are common knowledge.
But what I am realizing is that having a voice regularly in print in any community, let alone five, is not only a privilege but also a responsibility. And because of the war that is being waged against the press, we don’t know how long that privilege is to be had. Our freedom of speech should always be protected, but if one disgruntled reader can shut down a cream puff column for eight months, what can an entire disgruntled administration do to those who write about the most pressing topics? Or as we saw this past week in Maryland, one disgruntled reader with a gun.
So, I have decided that even though I am still learning, and it is not yet comfortable for me, it is imperative that I use my position as a newspaper columnist to speak about the important issues we are facing. I have discovered that I can still tell stories, but I can do it in a way that provokes thought. And that really is the goal...for people to explore their thought processes and evaluate their understanding of the issues.
It is only five papers (so far), but I have established a unique voice in these five communities, and I feel it is urgent that I add that voice to the bigger conversation. If I wait until I have learned everything everyone else already knows, it might be too late. My hope is that my readers will learn along with me, and together we can come to a clearer understanding of the world.
Syndicated columnist Ginger Claremohr is an author, speaker, and mother of five. Follow her on Facebook, find her on the web: www.claremohr.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.