Survey Shows Some Columnists Get “Hot” While Writing

By: Dave Astor

There are thousands of columnists in America, so a survey that drew 154 responses should be taken with a grain of salt. But the poll did offer some insights into the profession, including an interesting comparison to sex.

The University of San Francisco’s J. Michael Robertson unveiled the results of his survey Saturday at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) conference here. Columnists polled included salaried and freelance writers from 38 states and Canada who write in categories such as political, general-interest, humor, and metro.

When asked “what writing a column is like,” 26% of salaried columnists called it a job and 17% likened it to sex. But Robertson explained that this wasn’t necessarily a positive thing; he said some columnists feel like they’re “married to a nymphomaniac” because they have to start working on another column as soon as they’re finished with the previous one.

Of the columnists who call themselves political, 22% identified themselves as Democrats, 44% as independents, and 20% as Republicans.

The survey also found that 52% of respondents said they’ve never had a column killed.

Respondents have been a columnist for a median of seven years. Median salary for the full-timers is $50,000 to $60,000, and median pay for each freelance column is $50. Freelance columnists, on average, make only 10% of their income via their columns.

Freelancers have written a median of 400-500 columns during their careers, and full-timers 1,000-1,500. At least one full-timer responding to the poll has penned 7,500 columns.

Robertson, who has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, intends to update the survey as more columnists respond. “It’s an ongoing project,” said Robertson, who invited columnists interested in participating to e-mail him at robertson@usfca.edu.

Earlier in the conference, former NSNC President Mary Ann Lindley recalled the results of an informal columnist survey taken about 20 years ago. Lindley, now editorial page editor of The Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat, said most of the respondents back then were white males — and only 32% had computers at home.

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