It could be argued that opinion-writing is now in its heyday, given the fact that the Internet has ignited an explosion of websites and blogs overflowing with opinions of all kinds. But that would be an inaccurate argument. The truth of the matter is: much of what you read on the Internet is hurriedly written opinion that could get a staff newspaper reporter or columnist fired or demoted if they submitted it to their publication. While some of Internet opinion-writing is indeed solid, clever, thoughtful and good, a lot of it is dashed off. With the exception of some newspaper columns and a higher level of blog writing, much of the opinion writing on the Internet isn’t anything you’d hand to a younger person who’s starting and say: “Read it, study it and emulate it.” In some cases you’d say the opposite.
So where can you find a “role model” book for those who want to read great opinion writing and column writing? There was an big gap for years until 2011, when John Avlon, Jesse Angelo and Errol Louis gave a treasure chest to those who love compelling newspaper columns, in the form of an anthology, “Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns.” See my review of it HERE. John Avlon, Jesse Angelo Errol Louis have now done it it again: their follow-up collection titled: ” Deadline Artists–Scandals, Tragedies and Triumphs: More of America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns” is as good and, arguably, in many ways better than their first collection of what truly is an art: deadline writing columns crammed with thought, detail, style — writing that can be read again and again any time, any year, and still be engrossing and entertaining. It’s timeless writing that needs to be read and (yes) emulated by those who want to write the “short form.”
These are the days when newspapers continue to readjust to new economic and staffing realities, which include smaller revenues and a smaller news hole. As a result, many talented cartoonists are being laid off. Newspapers still run op-eds, but not as many as they did before. This also means reporters will see fewer openings go to columns and there will be fewer openings than before for columnists. Yes, papers do have web versions and there are some Internet mega-news websites and blogs that offer 21st century cyberspace incarnations of newspaper columns. But if you read web opinion writing, the emphasis is often on snark and lash out politics, a kind of literary regurgitation of right and left talk radio show riffs in pieces that would be unpublishable first drafts lacking the craftsmanship required to get a column published in a newspaper with editorial quality-control gatekeepers.
The Deadline Artists is a gem with distinguished contributors that include Jack London, H.L. Mencken, Dorothy Thompson, Richard Wright, Damon Runyon, Shirley Povich, Murray Kempton, Mike Ryoko, Ruben Salazar, Mary McGrory, Mike Barnicle, Molly Ivins, Pete Hamill, Carl Hiaasen, Nicholas Kristof, Leonard Pitts, Steve Lopez, Peggy Noonan, and Mitch Albom. And the title is indeed accurate: it focuses on the themes of scandals, tragedies and triumphs, so you get a good mix of sports, political, historical and personal columns. Do you want to read an A Plus column on the Chicago Fire, Watergate, the JFK assassination, 911 and more? It’s all in the book.
I’d argue that there are two columns that are worth the price of the book — and the price of also getting the book your kindle.
#1: A column written at the time about what it was like in Ford’s Theater the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. This more than any movie, or book literally puts you THERE IN THE THE THEATER and is written in language that is not old style English. It’s like a vivid time machine.
#2 A column written by Chicago’s late king of columnists, Mike Royko where he recounts singer Frank Sinatra’s angry reaction to a column he did about the singer. Royko runs in full Sinatra’s letter (complete with a copyright noted that states if reproduced it must be run in full,) complete with a bet Sinatra makes where if Royko loses Sinatra gets to punch him in the nose. Royko turned this into one of the most artistic columns of any kind. It’s a virtual symphony with its humor, beginning, middle and end — ending in a tribute to Sinatra and to Royko’s unmatchable talent as a writer.
Deadline Artists’ second volume is REQUIRED READING for those who love reading short, exceptionally well written columns, history, politics, popular culture, tragedies — and anyone in journalism and blogging. And, most of all, it’s REQUIRED READING by those who write in newspapers and on blogs who want to lift the current “short form,” so one day a NEW, thick volume of Deadline Artists could gather the best of current newspaper and Internet column writing. It’s REQUIRED READING for those who seek to lift up an art that flourished in newspapers but has seen its standards fall in the Internet age.
We don’t have to meet new standards; we just have to live up to the high, and highly entertaining and engrossing, old ones. “Deadline Artists: –Scandals, Tragedies and Triumphs: More of America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns” gives us the tool.