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May 21, 2022

How can one become a newspaper columnist?

 April 02 2021
By Odoobo Charles Bichachi


Many readers have in the recent past written to ask how they can become columnists in the Daily Monitor. Even as they ask, many of them have seemed not to fully understand what a column or columnist is.

In one of my first columns as public editor in 2018, I did address myself to this issue. But I guess two years is a very long time and many new readers have come on board that too could benefit from a few insights into the world of newspaper columns. I shall therefore revisit the subject in a very broad sense of how columnists are selected, and what comes with the territory.

First, what is a column? “A column is a recurring piece or article in a newspaper, magazine or other publication, where a writer expresses their own opinion in few columns allotted to them by the newspaper organisation.” (www.wikipedia.com). Columns are important for news publications because they are the space on which debate takes place. Columnists in their writing bring perspective to the issues in the public realm. They write about events, about people, about places, etc thus enabling the reading public to make sense of the things they encounter in the news.

Newspapers generally select columnists on the basis of subject areas that they wish to focus on and the strength of the columnists’ knowledge. So if a newspaper wants to have a column on business, they will find a columnist that has deep understanding of this area, can write lucidly, and has discipline to do this weekly or whatever frequency of publication of the column within the set deadline.

The call for columnists depends on available space in the Opinions-Editorial (op-Ed) pages.  Newspapers generally do not wish to tie-up so much space to particular individuals and affect the space available for free-spirited contributors that come in as and when news and events demand. So columns are usually limited to a few a day, making it very competitive to be eligible for this platform in a national newspaper.

Anyhow, once granted a column, one will require a full load of creativity to continuously generate interesting ideas and write articles that connect with the audience. As they say of writers, one will need doses of inspiration and perspiration to keep writing and enthrall the readers.

So the long and short is that potential columnists will be identified from current consistent, coherent and interesting opinions and commentary writers whenever opportunity arises. The best way to become a columnist is therefore to start writing. There is a token reward to columnists, but let it not be your motivation. You will be disappointed.

The Uganda Media Sector Working Group (UMSWG) came to life on Tuesday this week following a launch ceremony at the Protea Hotel Kampala Skyz. Information ministers Judith Nabakoooba was the first to sign onto the statement of principles followed by Media Council of Uganda chairperson Paulo Ekochu and the Uganda alumni of the Sweden-based International Training Programme on Media Regulation in a Democratic Framework.

Good conversations about the state of our media happened at the launch and many more shall be happening in the coming months.

But a few things to note first! One, Uganda’s media sector is quite disjointed with no coherent voice to champion the issues that affect it. Two, it is in rapid decline (at least the legacy media) following the disruption of the delivery and economics model by social media and new technologies.

Three, professional standards are wanting (if not declining) in spite of the emergence of many journalism training schools.

Four, the regulatory framework is outdated and ineffective, having come in place more than 20 years ago. Five, public consumption and trust of the media is in decline. Six, citizen journalism is growing in spite of its imperfections. We could go on and on!

So what does MSWG hope to achieve and why is it an important step in the industry? It is important because this is an industry initiative not running on rhetoric but on the realities that confront the industry.

It has also been positively received by the government and there is consensus among all that the time is now to hold this conversation. Best of luck to the fraternity!

This article has been adapted from its original source

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