There’s a TV commercial playing now that talks about a guy who buys a bunch of services he never uses. Our newsroom has been a little bit like that guy; we buy a lot more wire services and syndicated content than we could possibly ever use.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because we can sort through it to present a wider range of content and perspectives. But it’s hard on the checkbook to waste things, and these are budget-challenging times for us in the newspaper business.
All of this is a long way of saying we are changing some of our columnists. We are canceling a few, adding some others that we have paid for — but haven’t been using — and making a few other adjustments.
The biggest changes are to our business section. Years ago, we had a columnist every day, but that dwindled, and we didn’t really do much about finding replacements. Then, earlier this year, two of our columnists died. Kenneth Harney’s “Nation’s Housing” appeared on Mondays, and Malcolm Berko’s “Taking Stock” usually ran twice a week, including on Sundays.
We replaced Berko’s Sunday column with Helaine Olen’s “Life & Money with Helaine,” which is also distributed by Berko’s syndicate. Her softer, Dear Abby-style approach hasn’t been a hit with Berko’s red-meat readers. I like the column, but I have gotten several complaints. So we moved her to the Life section on Saturdays, where we think she will be a better fit.
I haven’t found another Berko, who regularly offered a few stock picks wrapped up with a lot of sharp opinions about companies and politics. So our new Sunday column is from Tribune Media Services and focuses on financial topics relevant to retirees. On Mondays, we’ll focus on real estate. We have a couple of columns to choose from here, so it will be a “best of” situation, at least for a while.
Tuesdays will continue to be anchored by Don Brunell, a local columnist. On Wednesdays, we won’t offer a column, because we find we generally need the extra space for news. Thursdays will feature Liz Reyer, whose column talks about workplace issues.
Friday’s topic will be about personal finance; we’ll probably choose among several offerings from Tribune Media Services. Liz Weston’s personal finance column will continue to appear on Saturdays.
You’ll notice that we also dropped Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post. While her column has run in The Columbian for a number of years, her price has gone up substantially, and the syndicate demanded another increase for 2020. We just don’t think the column is worth the money anymore, considering we have other columns on the same topic we aren’t printing.
Another column we didn’t think was worth the money anymore was Carolyn Hax’s advice column, which ran a couple of times a week in our Life section. She had shared that space with Dear Annie columns; we’ll print more of Annie in that spot.
Some of our opinion columns are changing, too. Again, we don’t like the higher prices and new restrictions on all of these Washington Post columnists, so we are dropping Esther Cepeda and Kathleen Parker. (Parker was a regular, but Cepeda was mostly used as a fill-in). Our editorial page editor, Greg Jayne, will replace them with columnists who hold similar points of view.
We may drop a few more of the Post’s opinion columnists before we are all done. But if we do, we will try to keep to our formula of offering conservative views some days and liberal views on other days.
I realize that some people don’t enjoy change, especially in an old friend like their morning newspaper. But overall, I think these changes will result in an equal if not better mix of opinions and information. They’ll also save us from having to pay for things that we have no intention of ever using.