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Your neighborhood columnist

Don Rogers

This is a column about columns. Great columns, crappy columns. Literature, laundry list. Local, global. Highfalutin and just as humble as a recipe for pie.At root, this style of commentary is conversation. Sure, I’m doing all the talking for the moment. But you can – and frequently do – carry your end, too. You call, you write, you give me a quick 2 cents worth sometimes when we meet in person.I believe this is the secret to opinion columns in your smalltown paper: The writer needs to be someone you could bump into at a party, a restaurant, the grocery story or ski slope. Maureen Dowd, George Will, Thomas Friedman, Mitch Albom – giants of this genre – well, they’re not neighbors no matter how refined their truly world-class writing and insights.And so our predecessors at the Vail Daily’s newsroom found they didn’t elicit nearly the response we get these days when they ran the columns only of those deemed qualified to carry. Locals need not presume, because of course they would be inferior writers, with inferior issues, which would be all too local and therefore inferior to the grand issues of this great nation and wide world.Oh, please. The thinking here smacks of the core problem with print journalism today, which has just about nothing to do with the ideology of its practitioners. As a tribe, we’re too busy being too important to bother with trying to relate to the communities we’re supposed to be serving, perish the thought of being a part of them. How pedestrian.So how to explain why lesser lights like Mazzuca, Carnes, Ferry, Braunholtz, Rogers, Zalaznick carry farther on the home turf, much farther? Not for the very brilliance of our prose, though I know we all aspire. The writing talent varies among this group and that wider pool of more infrequent guest columnists kind enough to participate. That’s not really the point, though. The neighbor principle trumps universal talent, even when the local writer is taking up global topics. This is where a newspaper is at its best and most useful – as community gathering point and pool of information and discussion. The columnists play an important role here, whether adding to the knowledge base, taking a position on an issue great or small, or just provoking you to join the conversation.Lest we get too full of ourselves, though, this probably is a good place to point out that letters to the editor and Tipsline calls are wider read, the latter column excoriated by critics who declare they never read such clap-trap yet rather mysteriously can recite the contents down to the word. No, even the awesome Pulitzer Prize-winning Maureen Dowd has little to add to our community forum by comparison to the meanest anonymous Tipsline call that sees print. (Yes, we do edit those.) If that little fact isn’t humbling, I don’t know what is.For me, these musings are less a play for your attention and more of that sometimes craven impulse to express. Something gets in my head and I’ve just got to share. Lucky you, it’s part of my job to inflict these thoughts upon you. Hey, lucky me. They pay me for this.I aim high, for the essay, the apex of expository writing, a precious flake of genuine literature, in this wink of time set aside to pour out these words. Unlike Maureen, though, I’ve got lots of other things to do at work as quickly as I can. So unfair, lacking her wit AND the mental space she has to work through the traps all writers lay for themselves.Every once in awhile it comes together, prose that nudges at poetry, a story with a deeper point subtly weaved in, polished off with a punchline that gives me that home-run feeling whether I’ve laid into those taboo subjects in polite society – politics, religion – picked a pearl out of memory or divined a lesson from “ordinary” life. Perfect! You know, sometimes you notice and sometimes you don’t. While I’m busy mining my professional and personal life for meaning to express, you naturally are reading through a different prism. You don’t care how brilliantly I may write. That’s a judgment left to the English majors and journalists – whose opinions I don’t care a whit about, and concern you even less.Nah. It’s all about whether I’ve pissed you off, stumbled into a subject you’ve been thinking about, raised a point you hadn’t considered yet, touched a memory, maybe even offered an opinion we agree on. It truly is all about you, you know. Even when I’m writing completely for me.There’s something about being human that makes us want to share this passage through life, in the paper, around a campfire, over the airways, across the fence. We take something from each other’s stories and observations into our own lives. I’d say it’s a form of connection. So much the better, more real perhaps, if the writer and the reader have a reasonable chance of meeting face to face, a sense of knowing each other.In any case, it does make a difference in this forum that we are neighbors. Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado


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