Until we meet again: A columnist says goodbye
That old line about the perils of gradualism? Of changing the rules a little at a time—say, from driving on one side of the road to driving on the other?
Some things, it seems, are better done in one big leap than in increments. So here’s my leap: With this note to you, and with the close of the calendar year, I’ll be ending my regular column-writing duties and devoting my energies to getting a new business up to highway speed.
Call it consulting, or “strategic communications,” or a force multiplier for the understaffed and the overstressed. (There are plenty of folks in both those categories these days!) I’m calling it Prime Prose LLC, and it’ll pull together an expanding assortment of the writing, editing, teaching and training services I’ve been providing to educational and journalistic organizations in recent years.
The shift will allow me to take on a wider variety of tasks, for a wider range of clients, than I’ve been comfortable doing while I was still motoring down the journalists’ side of the road. Not to push the metaphor too much further, but I have no desire to run smack into that 18-wheeler called “Conflict of Interest.” Better to make a move now, before any future assignments get crosswise with my columnist responsibilities, yes?
As a journalist—even an opinion journalist—I’ve always felt that readers needed to be confident that whatever conclusions I might reach, whatever beliefs I might express, come out of my own convictions and not because (or even possibly because) somebody else was paying me to reach those conclusions, or to hold those beliefs.
Now, different people can—and do—draw that line in different places, of course. And the lines themselves are becoming ever blurrier in the 24/7, Twitter-driven, everyone-wears-multiple-hats kind of world we now populate. But I needed to feel at ease with my own choices, and faithful to your perfectly reasonable expectations about those choices, and it seemed to me that the best way to be sure of that was to take the “Journalist” label off my forehead for the first time in decades.
Will it feel strange? You bet it will.
After all, I’ve been doing my thinking—or what passes for thinking—in opinionated 600-word chunks twice weekly for most of my adult life. Whether it’s been politics or war, relationships or road food, the faltering economy or the family cat, I’ve had literally thousands of opportunities to share my views. To vent my spleen. To provoke a chuckle, or a gasp of outrage, or a flash of recognition.
That comforting/challenging routine will be ending with this column.
For what it’s worth, I expect to carry on with my weekly commentaries for Milwaukee Public Television; the cast members of that show are, for the most part, not journalists, and the expectations are, accordingly, very different. With proper disclosure whenever it’s appropriate, I’m pretty sure I can continue to stand in front of a camera—and out of any ethical thickets. And I still expect to be sharing my own thoughts, under my own byline, in various print and online outlets from time to time. (It’s hard to kick the habit completely!)
But the twice-weekly column? My principal professional identity, and my steady-as-a-heartbeat scaffolding for all these years? Done.
And that will feel incredibly strange.
As will the sudden decrease in incoming email, some of it every bit as spleen-venting as the opinionizing that triggered it. One of the great joys of doing the column has been the chance to connect with people I might never have encountered otherwise—people from all corners of the country, and from most points on the political spectrum.
Some of you wrote just once or twice; with others, we became regular pen pals. Some of you agreed with something I had said; plenty of you had a somewhat(!) different point of view. But the simple fact that you took the time to write was its own terrific reward, and I hope you’ll stay every bit as engaged with whoever is lucky enough to fill this space in the months and years ahead.
In the meantime…
It’s been an honor. It’s been a pleasure.
Rick Horowitz is, for a few more hours, a syndicated columnist. You can still write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.