One of the rarest things in the career-driven world of journalism is someone who quits a job on principle.
But political columnist Jim Goldsborough did just that when he left The San Diego Union-Tribune after 13 years because its publisher killed one of his columns (available with a Google search).
The conservative newspaper's publisher felt his piece on why Jews voted for Kerry might offend readers.
Goldsborough, who has also written for the San Francisco Examiner, Newsweek, and the International Herald Tribune, told PRWeek why he did it, and how columnists usually operate.
PRWeek: Why do you think your column got spiked?
Jim Goldsborough: Pure stupidity. There's no other answer. The owner read it and didn't understand it. It was just a whole series of stupid mistakes. That column, by the way, is being printed in the Jewish magazine Forward. That is how anti-Semitic it is.
PRWeek: Why did you feel it was necessary to quit?
Goldsborough: Because that sort of thing isn't done. The last time I recall columns being killed it was a couple of years ago when The New York Times killed a couple of sports columns that had to do with Augusta National and Tiger Woods. The next week, the columns ran and the Times published an apology. You just don't kill columns. You can fire the columnist. It was erratic, unexplainable, and unacceptable. I'm supposed to sit in my office and wonder, "Gee, is this going to pass muster with the owner?" You don't operate like that. You can't be independent and have that kind of a thing go on.
PRWeek: What is the proper place of a columnist in a newspaper's structure?
Goldsborough: A columnist must be independent of management and the newsroom. It's the columnist's column, not the paper's. That's how columns differ from editorials. They are signed by the writer, who is responsible for them. Reporters and editorial writers write for the paper. Columnists write for the public. We are an independent voice working for the people. [Management] must leave us alone.
PRWeek: How did you usually come up with column ideas? Were you receptive to suggestions from the public or communications professionals?
Goldsborough: Something piques your interest or imagination, you research it, structure it with a beginning, middle, and end, and voila, finished product. As good as your last column may have been, you're only as good as your next idea. When the ideas dry up, you retire. I rarely got ideas from readers or "communications professionals," whatever they are.
PRWeek: How does a column's impact compare with that of a news story in terms of driving the point home?
Goldsborough: On big events, news stories always have more impact, as they give readers the instant, raw material to consider. The column comes later, providing perspective that the news story might leave out. News stories don't have opinion, or have balanced opinion. By definition, a columnist is unbalanced. He complements the news story, keeps it alive, gnaws on it, makes the reader go deeper into it and form his own opinion on it.
Name: Jim Goldsborough
Publication: The San Diego Union-Tribune
Title: Former columnist