I turned to the Local section of this morning’s Bulletin to discover something I hadn’t seen there in many years and never expected to see again: a local columnist.
Lily Raff, whose column will appear twice a week, spent six years as a reporter for The Bulletin and recently completed a prestigious Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan. She’s the first person to have a general-interest column on the Local section front since – damn, since I can’t remember when.
Back in the day, The Bulletin had quite a few local columnists. When I was managing editor I had a column myself – humor, mostly – that ran every Monday. After I left The Bulletin a number of other people got columns, including Doug Bates, who went on to win a Pulitzer for editorial writing at The Oregonian.
After the Gordon Black / John Costa team took over, the local columns rather abruptly disappeared. Until Raff’s debut, the only staff-produced general interest columns were those by Costa himself and by Janet Stevens, who as deputy editor and a member of the Chandler family is in a pretty strong position to have a column if she wants one.
Local columnists can add a lot of fun and spice to a daily newspaper, which I suppose is why The Bulletin finally decided to have one. They often produce the best reporting and most enjoyable writing in the paper. So I’m sincerely glad Bend’s only daily newspaper has one again.
But to do the job the way it should be done, a columnist needs a considerable amount of autonomy in choosing his or her topics and how to approach them. Will Raff’s editors give her a long leash, or will she have to toe the official line? We’ll wait and see.
And a good columnist sometimes has to be an iconoclast, challenge the conventional wisdom, poke a few banderillas into the local sacred cows. Will Raff be willing to do that, or will she stick to the safe and fluffy?
Her first column – about local folks following the World Cup – didn’t give much encouragement. On the other hand, it IS only her first column. And she says in the first paragraph that she’s from New York City. That’s promising.
I wish you good luck in covering what you call “this complicated place,” Lily. And, as Dan Rather used to say years ago when signing off: “Courage.”