Last weekend I attended the annual conference of NSNC – the National Society of Newspaper Columnists – which was held in Hartford, Connecticut. It is an interesting group of people, with nationally syndicated columnists, best-selling authors, and people like me who are columnists second, and something else first, career-wise.
It’s a little surreal to sit at a lunch table with a guy who has won a Pulitzer prize, and to ask him to pass the salt, or to take an elevator ride with Heloise of “Hints from Heloise” fame. But more on that later.
I don’t go to the conference every year, partly because the cost of attending roughly equals the total income I derive from writing. But, this year I decided to go because Hartford is the home of the Mark Twain House and Museum, where Samuel Langhorne Clemens spent his most productive years as a writer. My decision was sealed when I learned that columnist/author Dave Barry was receiving the lifetime achievement award. I’m not making that up.
Over the next few weeks I’d like to share some of what I learned and experienced at the conference. Not so much the “inside baseball” stuff, though that’s interesting too. Since my first conference in New Orleans the year after hurricane Katrina, I’d guess that half of the columnists are no longer employees of the newspapers they worked for.
Many, like me, are basically free lancers, and most have blogs and such. Newspapers are still trying to figure out how to survive in this new media era. Weekly papers, like the Cambridge News and Deerfield Independent, seem to be in the best position to survive and prosper, since people have no other good source of local news and information.
The democratization of news and opinion has caused great changes, but there is something to be said for trained journalists with editors and newspapers with reputations to protect.
Back in Mark Twain’s time, of course, the internet, smart phones and television weren’t around. And, major cities had multiple newspapers, each competing for readers by being the best at reporting news, and the most entertaining. Some papers were seen as more trustworthy and less sensational than others. I guess the same is true with blogs and cable news networks and people who tweet and post on Twitter and Facebook.
I appreciated the chance to interact with big-time and small-time columnists and bloggers in Hartford, and I look forward to sharing some of what I learned in the weeks to come. For now, here’s a quote from Mark Twain, and perhaps it is a word to those of us who wish to be heard: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”