Time flies when you’re writing newspaper columns
By Jim Schuh
It’s hard for me to believe – I began writing a newspaper column just over 20-years ago. The time has flown by.
Several weeks after I retired from the broadcasting business in 1999, I received a call from Debbie Bradley, editor of the Stevens Point Journal. She encouraged me to write a weekly column, and I told her I didn’t think I had much to say. After some thought, I decided to give the newspaper business a try.
Not long after my first column appeared in the Journal, I received a call from a friend, George Rogers, a retired Journal editor. He told me a group of former Journal employees – most of whom I knew – were going to start a new weekly newspaper, and he asked if I might like to join them in ownership of the new enterprise. He told me the idea for a new paper belonged to Gene Kemmeter, a reporter with whom I’d covered many local meetings and events, and someone I considered a friend. Gene decided to name the newspaper “The Portage County Gazette” – the name of a once-prosperous newspaper that had ceased publication decades earlier.
As I recall, we all met, pooled our funds and established a plan to put out the first issue in mid-1999.
That’s when I realized I faced a problem – how could I be a partner in the Gazette but continue writing a column for the competing Journal? It just wouldn’t work.
So, I had to face the music and tell Debbie – who’d given me the opportunity to write a weekly column – that I was going to stop writing for the Journal and move that column to the Gazette. Debbie was not happy to get the news. I felt like Judas.
I’m pleased to say, however, that she didn’t hold a grudge. Every time I’ve run into her, she’s always been warm and friendly. Debbie later left the Journal.
I never thought I’d be writing a column for 20-years. During that time, every week’s offering has been unique – except for one. Early on, the Gazette published the same column twice by mistake. Later, after the current owners purchased the Gazette, my column didn’t appear one week due to a production error.
Although I’ve never repeated a column, I’ve addressed some issues more than once. But I’ve tried to make those revisits fresh.
Writing a column every week and getting feedback from readers has been most gratifying. I don’t live for accolades, but I admit they’re nice to receive. To my great surprise, I’ve received very few negative comments about my scribblings over the years – I can count them on just a few figures.
Some folks have asked me if I ever suffer from writer’s block – not being able to come up with column topics. The answer is yes – but I’ve tried to make that a non-issue by preparing extra columns ahead of time so that when I can’t figure out what to write about, I have a reserve to rely on.
Although I generally avoid controversy, I sometimes wonder if the items I choose to write about are not provocative enough, since complaints have been few. I also occasionally question if anybody reads this column, but then someone I run into will mention something I’ve just written about.
One day, a thought entered my mind: How many words have I written in columns during the past 20-years, as well as during the previous 42-years in broadcasting, when I spent a great deal of time preparing news reports?
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to calculate how many words I wrote as a broadcast journalist, but I’m pretty sure it was in the hundreds of thousands. It’s a bit easier to count the words in my columns – if they averaged 850 words each week, multiplying that number by 52 weeks, and then multiplying that by 20-years produces a reasonably accurate number. My calculator reads 884,000. But since one column was duplicated and another missed, the number drops to 882,300.
That figure doesn’t include the news stories I wrote for the Gazette over the years. If I averaged two per week over the years, I was part-owner of the paper, and each ran 200 words, that works out to be about 197,000 words.
Together, that’s almost one million, 80-thousand words. Add to that several hundred thousand from my broadcast journalism days and the total approaches or possibly exceeds a million-and-a-half.
When I was just starting my working career, I’m sure I couldn’t imagine writing that many words, or ever being involved in a million of anything. My previous exposure to writing multiple words was limited to punishment from my elementary school nuns, who made us write our names or brief sentences 100-times as a punishment for misbehavior. (I haven’t counted those in my word total!)
And just as all of us have done, I produced a few essays during my high school and college school days – perhaps 500 or 1,000 or words long – and that seemed like a chore at the time. As a result, I never set out to become a writer – it just happened.
I don’t consider writing so many words over the years is much of an achievement, because for me, writing mostly has been fun. (My wife adds I’ve never been at a loss for words, anyway!)
Finally, I want to thank you for reading at least some of those words.