Types of Columns in Journalism
In journalism, a column is a recurring feature by the same author in a newspaper, magazine or website. In contrast to objective news stories, columns are characterized by voice, personality and opinions of the writer. The writer can be a journalist or an expert in the particular field about which he or she is writing. Though given creative leeway in how they write, columnists are usually assigned to specific sections, such as sports or politics.
Sports columns offer analysis and opinion on sports news and trends. While sports reporters cover events in real time, sports columnists explore the broader implications of those events. Bleacher Report columnist Peter Panacy, for example, follows the San Francisco 49ers and analyzes patterns over the course of several games, such as problems with the defense’s pass rushing. Sports columns can also address controversial issues in the sports world, from steroid use in Major League Baseball to head concussions in the National Football League.
Political columns have a long-standing history of providing partisan viewpoints and arguments, as well as analysis of political news. Political columnists often use wit and satire to criticize politicians or certain policies. Maureen Dowd of "The New York Times" once likened presidential hopeful John Edwards to a Ken doll. Large publications feature opposing columnists as a way to balance political commentary. George Will of the "Washington Post," for instance, offers a conservative viewpoint of current events, while Eugene Robinson of the same paper offers a more liberal perspective.
Advice columns are designed to provide readers with help and guidance on specific topics. Advice columnists are usually experts in their respective fields. A columnist with expertise in auto repair might tell readers how to diagnose engine problems or change their oil. A lawyer with expertise in probate or estate law might instruct readers how to make a will. Advice columnists also solicit questions from readers and try to address those questions in an ongoing dialogue. A well-known example of this latter type is “Dear Abby,” a personal advice column penned by the late Pauline Friedman Phillips.
Humor columns are designed to inform the readership and tickle their funny bones at the same time. Like stand-up comedians for newspapers, humor columnists explore current events with wit, playfulness and levity, providing comic relief from hard news. Perhaps more than other columnists, humorists are known for their distinct voice and personality, and for exploring difficult issues in funny ways. Dave Barry of "The Miami Herald" is a prime example. Nationally syndicated for more than 20 years, his humor column addressed everything from international economics to exploding toilets.
Local columns can mix humor, human interest stories, news and political coverage, even sports, as long as the content is relevant to local readers. These columns have long functioned as a way for publications to connect with their community, and for writers to explore local issues with style and personality. For this reason, local columnists are often longtime, well-known residents with an insider’s knowledge of the area. For example, at "The Miami Herald," Carl Hiaasen has written colorful columns about Florida life, news and politics since 1985.
Scott Neuffer is an award-winning journalist and writer who lives in Nevada. He holds a bachelor's degree in English and spent five years as an education and business reporter for Sierra Nevada Media Group. His first collection of short stories, "Scars of the New Order," was published in 2014.