A columnist writes opinion pieces for newspapers, magazines or websites. Columnists provide analysis on general news, politics, business, sports and a wide array of other topics. Some columnists are known for biting commentary, while others use humor to get their point across. Others merely aim to inform and entertain without providing too much of an opinion one way or the other.
Columnists gather information from already reported stories and form an analysis based on the findings. Unlike regular reporters, columnists don’t necessarily deliver just the straight facts base on reliable sources. Instead, columnists use their own voices to convey their opinions. For instance, a sports or political columnist may attend an event, then give his own take of what really happened. Some columnists approach their jobs with a “critical eye,” meaning they write about what they like or don’t like about a topic. Most columnists have reputations as experts on their topics.
A columnist benefits from strong interviewing skills. She must be an accomplished researcher with good analytical and writing skills, as well as have a firm grasp of the publisher's style guidelines, which for magazines and newspapers is often Associated Press Stylebook. She also needs to be an adept typist and communicator, as well as motivated, organized and resilient. Some columnists work long and odd hours that involve evenings, weekends and holidays.
No set requirements exist to become a columnist. Most newspapers and magazines prefer someone with a bachelor’s degree in communications or journalism, but education isn’t always as important as an ability to analyze topics and write well. The majority of newspaper and magazine columnists begin their careers as reporters before being promoted into the role. Meanwhile, anyone who starts an opinion website or blog is a columnist -- even a well-respected one, if he proves over time to be an expert in his field.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs for reporters and correspondents will decline 14 percent from 2012 to 2022. Falling revenue from print advertising and the increasing demand for online news will contribute to this loss of jobs. The competition for journalism positions will be strongest in large cities, and local media will offer the best prospects.
Columnists' wages vary greatly, largely depending on the size and scope of the publication for which they write. To give a general idea, 80 percent of news reporters and correspondents earned between $20,710 and $77,360 annually as of May 2013, according to the BLS. Columnist salaries typically fall into the same range.