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Opening Arguments

Fish in a barrel

A syndicated columnist calls it quits, with a little whining thrown in:

Those who wanted more biting opinion gravitated to the Internet, where there are vast numbers of people offering commentary along every single point on the political spectrum. It became very easy to find writers expressing exactly one's own personal opinion about everything. Bloggers also have the advantages of no space constraints, and an ability to post comments in real time and to offer links to supporting documents and sources. Now they even have audio and video.

As a result, the demand for traditional column writing has pretty much dried up, just as the demand for buggy whips collapsed when the automobile came along. I don't mourn the old system. I am a great fan of bloggers and learn far more from them than I do from the Broders and Friedmans of the world, who have largely become irrelevant to serious political discussion.

Furthermore, the basic medium through which columnists operate -- newspapers -- are dying a slow death.

Yes, all that darn competition. People everywhere are able to express an opinion. Not everyone is sympathetic to the quitter:

Columnists express opinions on anything they want. It is like being paid to breathe. And he is turning down the money?

Instead of writing a newspaper column, he will write books. That's like giving up playing the kazoo to become a concert pianist because it is easier.

Of course it pays better. You actually have to have talent and work at it.

Writing a newspaper column is like shooting fish in a barrel. But the fish need to be shot and I am happy to do my part.

After Watergate, there was a surge of kids coming into newspapers who all wanted to be immediately put on the investigative reporting, "give me a year, and I'll bring down a governor or at least the mayor" beat. A trend that lasted longer -- and I've had to deal with it on the editorial page -- were the people who wandered in off the street and wanted to quit their jobs with the phone company or the bank and be hired next week by the newspaper. "I'd really like to write a column, but I realize that it might take at least a year before other papers pick up the column and I'm syndicated." Never mind the journalism degree or writing obits or putting in your time on the police beat and in city council meetings. The whole world is just waiting for my opinion, and I'm eager to give it to them. No realization at all that before you get to shoot those fish in a barrel, you have to first, as Mao noted, swim with all the other fish in the sea.

"Fish in a barrel," by the way, is one of the kinds of editorials we write when space must be filled and the ideas just aren't coming, along with "preaching to the choir," "beating a dead horse" and "belaboring the obvious." Funny, those show up in blogs, too.


Larry Morris
Thu, 07/12/2007 - 8:56am

I think that happens with any industry as technology progresses. As soon as the PC became a household item, suddenly everyone was a programmer and was slinging code with the best of us. Never mind the education, the experience, and don't even get me started on what a mainframe is - and, it's not the PC sitting under your desk, ...They look at me like I'm speaking a foreign language when I tell them to come see me when they've done 80,000 lines of code in 6 months to meet a deadline, ...