A panel of business columnists at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers annual conference Sunday afternoon all believe that the best columns literally write themselves.
Sheryl Harris, a columnist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, told the story about a column she wrote about a woman being pursued by debt collectors. The woman taped one of the phone calls. As a result, Harris said, she was able to write the column as a narrative.
“Try something impossible sometimes,” she said. “You never know.”
Steve Bailey, a business columnist with the Boston Globe, said his best columns come from being out of the newsroom and from talking to people. He’s apparently the only journalist at the paper whose phone number is published in the paper.
“I see every column as a performance,” he said. “And the only column that matters is the next one. I’m local, local, local.”
Michael Rapoport, who writes the “In the Money” column for Dow Jones Newswires, says that his best columns are the result of looking for ideas in places where others aren’t.
“You’re not going to get the besgt column, probably, out of a news conference,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom.”
Rapoport said the biggest mistake a columnist can make is being wrong. But that’s not so bad either.
“You’ve still provided a valuable service because you’ve written a contrarian point of view,” he said.