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What does a Newspaper Columnist do?

By G. Melanson
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A newspaper columnist produces a regular column, which can vary in length, frequency, and content, largely depending on the section of the newspaper within which it appears. The goal of a newspaper columnist is to continually present a cohesive argument or analysis of a certain subject within the overall genre of the column. For example, a newspaper columnist who writes for the arts and entertainment section might write a column reviewing the latest cultural happenings in the readership area, or a columnist who appears in the finance section might write a column about money saving tips. One exception may be humor columns, which can often veer nonsensically in topic from the beginning to the end of the column for comedic purposes.

A newspaper columnist who is just starting out in journalism and has not yet established a name in the field is more likely to be assigned his or her topics by an editor. Columnists who have established a reputation and a voice in journalism are typically given more freedom in all aspects of their column, including the authority to choose the topic and direction of each of their columns. An established newspaper columnist also has more of an opportunity to become syndicated, which means that his or her column is run in newspapers all across the globe, while emerging columnists typically appear in one newspaper exclusively. Both new and established columnists are expected to adhere to strict deadlines, as newspaper publishing leaves little room for deadline flexibility.

Although most newspaper columnists appear weekly, some are featured bi-weekly, monthly or at other regular intervals. During these intervals, the newspaper columnist is continuously gathering information and forming opinions on the topic of the next column. The same rules and ethics that apply to any journalist, such as laws against libel and plagiarism, also apply to a newspaper columnist. He is expected to research the facts presented in the column with the same degree of thoroughness as a reporter or editor would use. Although many newspapers employ photographers and illustrators, certain columnists sometimes choose to supply their own photographs or artwork to illustrate their column.

Some newspaper columns are more interactive than others, depending on their theme. Advice columns, for example, solicit letters from the public featuring etiquette or relationship questions, which are then published alongside the columnist’s thoughts and suggestions. Astrology columns and DIY home renovation columns also frequently solicit letters from the public. The more popular or iconic a newspaper columnist becomes, the more opportunities he is presented with to branch out into other forms of media, such as radio, TV, film and the web.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By penmanK — On Nov 12, 2012

Are questions submitted by individuals to and advice columns covered by copyright law? And are they fair game to be used in other written works since they are intended for public viewing and are not intended to accomplish any gain by the author?

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