Bulletin photo by Kareya Saleh

‘What has become really rare is a genuine connection … putting yourself 100 percent in front of your readers creates that connection.’

-- Suzette Martinez Standring,
Syndicated columnist,
GateHouse Media

Column writing:
Making a difference by
making a connection

By Danae Bucci
Bulletin Correspondent

Suzette Martinez Standring, an expert on column writing, advocates three points for fashioning quality columns, but says that before those points can be followed, writers need to make a connection with their readers – a connection that can lead to making a difference.

She discussed her approach to column writing Saturday, Feb. 20, with an audience of about 20 people at the New England Newspaper and Press Association winter convention in the Boston Park Plaza Hotel,

Standring writes a syndicated column for GateHouse Media, the chain that owns the most newspapers in New England. Her column on spirituality runs twice monthly in GateHouse’s Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Mass. Standring has written two books on column writing.

“What has become really rare is a genuine connection … putting yourself 100 percent in front of your readers creates that connection,” Standring said.

Standring said column writing is much different than just reporting stories because you are conveying who you are in 500 to 750 words. And because all columns convey your opinion, they use the art of persuasion to sway readers to what the author believes, she said. Without a connection to the reader, it could be hard to sway the reader to what the author believes. But once you master a connection to your reader, you can write a successful column that sways the reader, Standring said.

Her first point to writing a column is “what is your point?” She said that if you are not able to write the point of your column in one sentence, you are not ready to write your column. Your point can “help guide and structure your column,” Standring said.

The second point in her presentation: “Who cares?” And for that question she found the response obvious: your readers. Newspapers are often seen as providing unbiased news. But by having column writers, you can “put a human face in the newspaper,” she said. That also allows you to create a following of readers who want to learn more about what you believe, she said.

Because columnists can create their own following, they are also expected to be biased, but they have to be fair as well, Standring said. She thinks that when columnists present a problem, they also have to present a solution.

Her third and final point: “Is there substance?” Standring thinks that It is the columnist’s job to “guide people to make up their minds and shape their opinions.”

After she finished explaining her three points, Standring opened the discussion for questions from the audience.

How to handle hate mail was a popular topic.

On that topic, Standring said you “can’t be a columnist without getting hate mail.”

She said that is because columnists are so openly giving their opinions on what can be controversial topics.

At the end of the day, she asked: “Whose opinion matters? Yours.”

Audience member Nat Barrows, who is a columnist, shared how he dealt with hate mail by saying, “You can’t own that person’s feeling -- that’s their feeling.”

Reminiscing on why she began writing a column, Standring said: “I chose to do this because I want to make a difference.

Danae Bucci is an undergraduate student in the Northeastern University School of Journalism.

POSTED 3/12/16


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