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What does a Syndicated Columnist do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated: Mar 02, 2024

A syndicated columnist is a writer who produces regular short articles, typically on a specific theme or subject, and sells them to a service that distributes them for her. The distribution normally spans many publications. Newspaper syndicated services normally distribute the material over a wide geographic regions. Online syndication services typically provide feeds of the column to many Internet sites, including newspapers, magazines and blog sites.

Although a syndicated columnist is normally perceived to have started her column-writing career at a small local newspaper, this is not necessarily a prerequisite to syndication. Some columnists submit their work to individual newspapers and syndication services before being published anywhere else. If a newspaper or service decides to publish the column and it is well received, that is often the key to the columnist’s success.

Bloggers sometimes become syndicated columnists through the Internet. A writer may write a blog for a Web site that an online newspaper or magazine decides to publish. In this case, a blogger may have to edit their work, as columnists are traditionally limited to 600 words, a relatively low word count for a blogger. Groups known as print syndicates will distribute a writer’s column for a fee. Other sites offer free feeds to regularly updated online publications.

For many years, both syndicated and independent columnists were traditionally humorists. Today’s newspapers, both hard and soft versions, often publish daily columns that have strong political views about politics or popular worldwide topics. These opinion pieces traditionally were occasional columns expressing the views of the publication’s editor.

Other popular syndicated newspaper columns have provided advice for the lovelorn and guidance on etiquette and social behavior. A few writers have gained notoriety through writing gossip columns about celebrities and socialites. Money, economics and sports have also been successful topics for some syndicated columnists. Magazine columnists generally write about subjects related to the theme of the publication.

Many syndicated columnists attribute their success to being particularly knowledgeable about a particular topic. Others credit their popularity to being fairly obsessive about a particular point of view that their writing reflects in a way the public finds amusing or interesting. A particular point of view, stated with ardor, often seems to be the key to being a successful syndicated columnist.

No formal education or high school diploma is necessary to become a syndicated columnist. A good command of language and superb, engaging writing skills are commonly required. Consistency in thought and opinion generally builds a strong following and typically contributes to the success of a person in this profession.

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Discussion Comments
By anon339384 — On Jun 22, 2013

Editors are one of the biggest reasons why the newspaper sales have taken a nose dive. Yeah, the recession is to blame too, but if the newspaper is crappy to begin with...

By John57 — On Apr 23, 2012

I have two co-workers who have very different viewpoints about most things. Sometimes it is quite humorous to listen to them debate everything from politics to the right way to grill meat.

One of them is what most people would consider liberal, and the other one is very conservative. They listen to different news broadcasters and read different newspaper columns.

I never realized how many different liberal and conservative columnists there are out there. They both talk about people I had never heard of before, and read their columns religiously.

I never have to worry much about reading or listening to the news myself. I always get both sides of the commentary at work every day.

By golf07 — On Apr 22, 2012

It seems like many syndicated columnists get their start in radio. I remember my parents liked to listen to 'A Prairie Home Companion' on the radio.

This program was done by Garrison Keillor who is a syndicated columnist. As a kid, I wasn't too interested in this program, but I do remember he told some humorous stories.

I can see how successful syndicated columnists have a large fan following. My mom never wanted to miss when this show was on.

Now with the internet and social networking, their work can easily be seen and read all over the world.

By julies — On Apr 22, 2012

The syndicated column I read most often is Dear Abby. I remember reading somewhere that this column is now written by the daughter of the woman who originally started writing it.

When I read the questions sent in by readers, I always try to guess how I think 'Abby' will respond. Sometimes I am right and other times I am way off.

While I am not very good at giving others advice, I think it would be interesting to read all the letters sent in.

One thing is for sure, she should never struggle with content to write about. Sometimes she gets up to 10,000 letters or emails in one week.

By orangey03 — On Apr 21, 2012

@OeKc05 – Is this writer syndicated online as well? It seems like that would be the way to go in order to build your career.

A newspaper is a fine start, I'm sure. You could garner thousands of readers across a certain area, but you are limited to that area. Unless the paper has an online version and tons of subscribers, you are kind of stuck.

If a syndicated columnist manages to get published on a website with high traffic, he could potentially be read by people all over the world. If someone overseas did a search for a topic that was included in his column, then they could find him purely by accident and become a fan.

By cloudel — On Apr 20, 2012

I find syndicated advice columnists very amusing. It amazes me at times that they get paid to offer what seems like total common sense advice.

The people who write in with their problems amuse me, too. With just about every situation, I can see an obvious answer that they can't, because they are too close to the subject. I just wonder if they can see how glaringly simple the solution is when they read their questions in the paper.

I actually tried writing to a syndicated advice columnist once. I didn't send my question in, though, because after reading my problem aloud to myself, I saw what answer she would obviously have given me.

By seag47 — On Apr 20, 2012

I was a syndicated columnist for awhile, but it was very hard for me to trim my work down to a certain word count. When I write, the words just flow forth and come together in perfect harmony. To take several sentences or even paragraphs out upsets the whole structure.

I once wrote a beautiful opinion piece, and I was sure the editor would see fit to let the word count slide. He didn't, and after being edited, the piece lost its beauty. I was very upset, because he did the trimming down for me, and since I didn't even get to choose what parts to leave out, it ended up sounding nothing like the original.

I think that editors should at least give columnists the chance to rewrite their columns for cohesiveness and proper flow. I think I could have rearranged some things to make it sound better than it did.

By OeKc05 — On Apr 19, 2012

My favorite syndicated columnist writes short fiction about characters in the deep South. He always uses first person style, and it makes his stories more engaging.

His tales are published in several newspapers across the South once a week. I have talked to other people in the region who look forward to reading his humorous and far-fetched creations every week. Some people buy the newspaper on that day specifically for his story.

If you have a big enough following, it really can make your writing career grow. This writer is putting together a collection of his short stories, and he plans to publish it in book form. I have no doubt it will be a big hit around here, and the rave reviews he always gets will draw attention from people in other states.

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