The Reading Room

Columnists

Columnists are playing a much greater role in news analysis. With so many staff cuts (Times and SundayTimes announcing 150 job losses this week) the debate about ‘cut and paste’ news will only rage on. But newspapers still have to differentiate themselves from the growth of online ‘churnalism’ and endless blogs and it is their columnists that help them do this. I’m still likely to buy the FT because I might get the view of Martin Wolf on the Eurozone crisis and I’ll still buy the Guardian on the off chance that an experienced political hack like Michael White might have penned a column on the latest Whitehall scandal.

Newspapers know their columnists are their star players, which is probably why they’re steadily recruiting celebrities. There is no problem with this if they are, for example, former England cricket Captain Mike Atherton, who can probably give as good an insight as anyone into why England can now easily beat India in a test series. But it is worrying when newspapers start recruiting celebrities for the sake of being celebrities. This strategy will only win over readers in the short term but will not ensure the newspaper’s long term survival. In the end columnists have to be able to offer some kind of unique insight but most importantly they must be good writers.

For information, I thought it was worth listing this year’s winners of the Editorial Intelligence(EI) journalism awards. It seems that the Times and Financial Times have swept the board. PS.

 

The full list of winners:

Best Online Comment: Site Mumsnet
Business Commentator: John Gapper, Financial Times
Cultural Commentator: Simon Kuper, Financial Times
Economics Commentator: Irwin Stelzer, The Sunday Times
Foreign Commentator: David Pilling, Financial Times
Independent Blogger: Sunny Hundal, www.liberalconspiracy.org & www.pickledpolitics.com
Mainstream Media: Blogger Robert Peston, BBC
Media Commentator: Peter Wilby, New Statesman
Political Commentator: Daniel Finkelstein, The Times
Sketch Commentator: Ann Treneman, The Times
Sports Commentator: Mike Atherton, The Times
Twitter Commentator: David Aaronovitch, @DAaronovitch
Columnist of the Year: Hugo Rifkind, The Times
Best Comment Pages: Financial Times
Commentariat of the Year: Matthew d’Ancona, The Sunday Telegraph & London Evening Standard

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