Newspaper columns, 17 kumquats, and a famous ‘you’

If you think some movie stars are prima donnas (“I requested 17 polished kumquats in the scarlet dish, not 16, not 18, you imbecile! You’re fired!”), then you haven’t met a newspaper columnist.

There’s something about being charged will filling ten inches of virgin newsprint each week that does horrible things to the ego.

Newspaper columnists are so important that they have their own glass-walled office – which they carry around to avoid contamination by anyone lowlier.

Which is everyone…because they’re more important than even the editor-in-chief or the proprietor.

And woe betide any editor who accidentally screws with their copy.

Every four months or so in newspaper offices worldwide there’s a huge bust-up between a columnist and an editor over an extra comma or something.

The trade union gets called in.


In my last job at the paper-and-ink factory here in Toronto, I witnessed an email exchange between a particularly ego-tastic columnist and the copy-editing department.

It was much more entertaining than the darn newspaper ever was.

King of the columnist egos is a chap who writes restaurant reviews in England. If you want a good read – and don’t mind extreme profanity.

It’s fun.

And it’s all over an extra indefinite article.

Now to be fair (not that I want to be), not all columnists are like this.

And to be fair again, some of them deserve their status.

The best columnists make a newspaper a go-to destination. Every weekend I go to the New York Times website to read one particular columnist who seems to live inside my head…yet more eloquently.

And once a week I visit the website of a British newspaper to read a columnist who says everything I want to say…but daren’t.

But here’s the thing…

When once upon time – when the newspaper was the only game in town and you were the only columnist – you could afford a whopping ego.

But now, anyone with access to WordPress can write their own column. And if they are really good, they can build their own franchise that’s as valuable as any newspaper business.

Because people like opinions. They like to be led. They like controversy. And they like a bit of color.

After all, it’s a gray, gray world out there for most of us, most of the time.

SO HERE’S WHAT THIS HAS TO DO WITH NEWSLETTERS: To make your newsletter a go-to destination, you need to become your own columnist.

Now, it doesn’t matter if you’re not some hotshot writer…because you can be a star in your own world.

Just say something interesting. Have an opinion. Stir it up a little.

It’s not that hard, because when you look at every other newsletter or marketing piece out there, you realize that the bar is pretty low.

I promise you’ll make your newsletter – and your business – the talk of the town.

And I’ll tell you what: you’ll have fun too.