A column about writing a column
Happy anniversary to me, happy anniversary to me. Happy anniversary, happy anniversary, happy anniversary to me. (You will just have to imagine me singing those words, but I can tell you I did a wonderful job of it.)
Is it my wedding anniversary? No. Is it my anniversary of having started employment as the editor of the Faribault County Register? No. Is it the anniversary of my birth? Not that either.
It is the celebration of this being my 2,000th weekly newspaper column I have written over the years.
I know what you are thinking. How can that be true when I look like such a young man?
But it is true. Well, it’s sort of true. I didn’t exactly keep track of all of them. And to be honest, not all of them could be considered a newspaper column.
Let me explain.
In my early years as a young 22-year-old whipper-snapper who became the publisher, editor, reporter, photographer, ad salesperson at the Enderlin, North Dakota, Independent, I wrote an editorial every week. We had a woman who wrote a column every week called “The View Along Highway 46” so-named because Enderlin was situated along Highway 46. So I wrote an editorial each week, not really a column.
I soon learned that the folks of Enderlin were not always happy with a 22-year-old, young whipper-snapper editor, from Minnesota no less, preaching to them in an editorial every week.
However, I persisted. It was what I had been taught in journalism classes at Mankato State College. Newspapers should have an editorial.
I continued that bad habit of editorial writing when I became the publisher, editor, etc., etc., at the newspapers in Waterville and Elysian. Those newspapers already had three people writing columns each week, and there was really no need for me to write one, as well. So, I continued to tick people off with my preachy editorials.
Staffers Bernadine Hildebrant and Jack Webster, and the former publisher’s mother, all wrote columns. That was back in the 1970s, early 1980s. Remarkably, Bernadine still writes an occasional column (“Berns-eye View”) to this day, even as she approaches her 100th birthday.
But I digress.
Finally, starting in Tyler, Minnesota, in 1985, I wrote an actual weekly column for the next 23 years in the Tyler Tribute. It was called “Tributaries,” a take-off on the name of the newspaper, as well as the fact that my column often was on a variety of topics, all covered in the same column. Thus, I was wandering around various topics like the tributaries of a river. Some thought it was the wanderings of a deranged mind, however.
I also have coached others about writing a weekly column. And by coached, I pretty much mean I forced some employees of mine to try writing a column.
One of those is Mark Wilmes, current editor of the Tyler Tribute. I ‘convinced’ him to write a weekly column and I thought he would be good at it because, well, he has a strange sense of humor. I was right. His “Off the Mark” column has received several awards.
I am still ‘convincing’ the staff writers here at the Register to try writing a column a couple times a month – aka Kevin Mertens’ “SnapShots.”
When I came to Blue Earth roughly 14 years ago I decided to quit the meandering writings of “Tributaries” and keep my column to just one subject. Hence, the birth of this column called “From the Editor’s Notebook.” The idea was to give you, the reader, a little background on my perspective of what was going on in Faribault County. Perhaps the news behind the news. My goal was to be a little bit like the Paul Harvey commentaries when he ended with “and now you know the rest of the story.”
So, if you do the math and take 48 years of writing columns times 52 weeks a year, you get 2,496. Subtracting the few weeks when I did not write a column, or the column was an editorial instead, I’m pretty sure you come up with 2,000 columns. And that is a lot of words.
Much of my column writing has come very early in the morning right before deadline. This is one of those. Although it was an idea months ago, it is actually being written very early Friday morning. I am kind of famous around the Register office for coming up with a column at the last minute. And at 4:30 a.m.
This weekly “Editor’s Notebook” column has morphed into other things over the past few years. It has covered a wide variety of topics. Sometimes it has been serious, sometimes it has been humorous, or at least it was meant to be funny. It is always supposed to be entertaining and thought-provoking.
All modesty aside, I have won a few awards for my column writing. Like anything else, if you write a column every week for 2,000 weeks, you are bound to get lucky once in a while and write a really good one.
This isn’t one of those, however.