Sometimes I have a subject already selected and I tell them. Sometimes, though, I don’t have a topic in mind and I have to tell them that I’m still thinking about what to write.
Writing a column isn’t easy. Just ask anyone who does it for a living.
Mike Royko of the Chicago Tribune and Pete Waldmeir of the Detroit News were two of my favorite columnists. They both were very good at their jobs.
Waldmeir wrote a news column for the Detroit News for many years. Quite a few of his columns focused on former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young’s administration. Waldmeir wasn’t afraid to write about what was on his mind.
Mayor Young and his colleagues were fair game for Waldmeir. If the mayor or someone else was doing something that could be deemed wrong or unethical, Waldmeir would let readers know about it.
I met Waldmeir once at a Michigan Associated Press Awards banquet in Lansing. I introduced myself and told him that I had a lot of respect for his work. Waldmeir was gracious in accepting my compliments and said that being critical of politicians was just part of his job.
I never met Mike Royko, but my college roommate did. Les Johnson was working in Chicago one summer when he spotted Royko in a bar. Royko often got his column ideas from bar patrons.
Royko, too, wasn’t afraid to take on politicians. He also created a fictitious character named Slats Grobnik, a working class Polish-Chicagoan. The Grobnik columns described two men discussing politics in a Chicago Polish neighborhood bar.
Although I never met Royko, I was once indirectly a subject of one of his columns.
Royko was a big fan of 16-inch softball (A normal softball is 12 inches). I played on a 16-inch softball team when I worked in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Royko dissed our league because we used baseball gloves. Royko believed 16-inch softball players should just use their hands to catch the ball.
I did meet Royko’s replacement, John Kass. He happened to be the guest speaker at a newspaper conference I attended in Chicago. I introduced myself, and he told me he was very familiar with Grand Haven. His family used to vacation in West Michigan sometimes.
Kass has continued the tradition of holding politicians accountable for their actions.
I wish I could say that my columns have been as hard-hitting as those written by Waldmeir, Royko and Kass. They’re not.
Some of our Community Columnists have written thought-provoking columns, such as Tim Penning and the Rev. Henry Idema. Nor am I as witty as Grant Berry.
Since I left the Tribune, I have avoided writing about local politics. I don’t feel it is my place to do so because my opinions may drastically differ from the opinions of the Tribune.
But I do enjoy writing about people and about my experiences in life. I’ve been fortunate enough to win several awards.
When I was in Texas, I won a first-place award for a column about people abandoning pets. I also won an award at the Tribune for my column about World War II veteran Bernie Schultz, who was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. Bernie and I became good friends.
The best part about writing a column is learning about different people and the lifestyles they choose. I enjoy meeting people and writing about them.
My columns might not be that thought-provoking, but I am hopeful that readers find them interesting. I’ll keep plugging away.
— By Len Painter, editor emeritus