Time for me to come up with a few column ideas. Not the time to actually write a column — there’s neither time nor space for that on this Tuesday morning prior to our weekly date with the printer. But I do need to come up with an idea or two that can be spun into a 1,000 or 1,100-word yarn that can fill a little corner of this paper next time or the time after that.
Ideas aren’t always easy to come by. Even when they do appear magically out of thin air, the ideas may not easily turn into columns, especially not when you are stuck at your desk a few hours away from a deadline.
I’ve always thought that the best columnists are the writers who work out of the office. They take us to places where we would otherwise never get to go. Their columns are well crafted capsules, which we readers eagerly board, highly pre-disposed to enjoy the flight.
Then there are other columnists, such as myself, who almost never get out of the office. Lots of the ideas we come up with don’t even get us out the front door, let alone to some exotic mental state. We may come up with a great idea, but then realize it will require real reporting (imagine!) in order to execute it. That doesn’t always work for us office-bound wordsmiths.
To give you an idea of how a journalist’s mind operates, let me share a few ideas that I have been kicking around lately. Time will tell which ones, if any, turn into a column.
Princeton University Football. The Tigers are off to one of their best starts in years. I dropped in on some second-half action the other week and discovered that Princeton now plays a no-huddle, hurry-up offense virtually the entire game. I’m intrigued because I could draw on some experience I had covering the team back in the early 1970s, shortly after Princeton had abandoned the legendary single-wing formation. This no-huddle approach sounds like a similar wrinkle.
The best thing about this idea: I could possibly pull it off with no outside reporting.
The Kennedy Assassination, Plus 50. I am tempted to re-run a column I did 10 years ago on the 40th anniversary, recounting an eye-opening visit I made to the Texas Book Depository in Dallas. I’m tempted but I am not sure faithful readers would forgive me for serving seconds on such an important topic.
The Circle, a new novel by Dave Eggers. According to a recent review in one of the daily newspapers, the novel is set at a fictional company called the Circle, a cross between Facebook and Google. The workplace culture comes across as an Orwellian system in which privacy becomes a vice and connectivity leads to isolation.
Sounds instructive for me and U.S. 1’s readership. Trouble is I would have to get the book, and then read it. But maybe I could just glean some comments from Facebook and finesse a column.
Halloween Gone Wild. Every year around this time I am tempted to write about the exponential growth of this autumnal rite. This year we are seeing mega outdoor displays that used to show up only in December for Christmas now being adapted to ghoulish themes that can be unveiled in October. In the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district, an elementary principal put a lid on some of the Halloween festivities that used to take up classroom time on October 31. When asked why, the principal — perhaps sensing that she was tampering with what some have come to consider a sacred holiday tradition — declined to comment.
Now there’s a great idea, and one that I can easily transform into a column, since I was editing the story that reported on the change. But I have run out of time. Wait ’til next year.