Column business teaches lessons

Some days I make this columnist business look easy. Other days I wonder what I was thinking when I decided writing my thoughts down for a public consumption on a weekly basis would be a good thing to do.

I think I started doing a column back about 1988 or 1989. I've had a few short breaks since then but for most of the last quarter of a century I've managed to scrounge up a weekly topic. Some of those years I was writing two or three columns or editorials a week. The ideas flow like a fast river at times and other times the pipeline slows to a trickle.

I guess my training as a columnist came from reading columns. For years the front page of the Portales News-Tribune ran the By-the-Way column, penned mostly by Gordon Greaves. I read that unsigned piece regularly and I started reading The Displaced Nebraskan by J. Fred Thompson which, introduced humor to my idea of what a newspaper column should be.

I started reading Jim Arnholtz of the Albuquerque Journal and liked his human side and ability to tell the average guy's story. I left New Mexico for awhile and some guy named Jim Belshaw had snagged Arnoltz' spot. Turns out it was same guy and different name.

The late Lewis Grizzard's Southern humor and telling it like really was out behind the barn appealed to me too. As did Dave Barry's ability, not unlike Thompson's to poke fun at himself.

All great role models but J. Fred and I were the only ones to spend time in the trenches together, though I just barely missed a press association lecture by Belshaw once.

J. Fred finally quit the daily grind at the PNT in his 70s and continued writing a column when he retired to Tucumcari. Soon he was working for me in the mailroom at the Quay County Sun. All I can say about that is that he was much better with an adjective than an Addressograph. But we spent a lot of time together and in on-the-job conversation I picked up his sense of humor and his style. That's not to say I began wearing ties in the mailroom like he sometimes did, but I learned to relate to people and not put anyone down.

My path to fame as a columnist was long and roundabout. No one ever offered me a job as a columnist. Nope, I finally had to hire myself for that job. If you sell enough advertising and put in enough time covering ball games and city councils and finally become a publisher you can do that.

I've been saving the earnings from my column writing for most of those 25 years and I'm pleased to announce this may be my last column. Not because I have a comfortable nest egg and can retire. Heck no, that would probably take at least another 25 years at this pace. It's just that I don't have that job security of being my own publisher these days.

Karl Terry writes for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:

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