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More than anything else, a political columnist offers his own opinion on matters of local, regional, national, or international affairs. His column is offered on a regular or semi-regular basis in a newspaper, magazine, or over the Internet, and can be either a paid or unpaid position. The column in question can focus on a specific issue, or it can be general in nature. No matter the topic, the political columnist usually takes a firm stance and attempts to sway others to his position.
A political columnist should not be confused with a political reporter. The latter seeks out facts, delivers them as news, and is supposed to offer them to the public in as neutral a manner as is possible. A political columnist may also collect facts, but there is no pretense of neutrality or impartiality. Political columnists normally function with an agenda, taking the paths of either good or bad, right or wrong, or black and white. There are few gray areas in the mind or style of a columnist.
Many times, those who comment on politics believe strongly in a specific ideology, and attempt to mold their arguments to fit within a pre-determined philosophical perspective. It is small surprise that columnists who specialize in the political arena are frequently either loved or hated by readers. These writers are frequently fired from their position, or may have their columns withdrawn by editors and publishers if mail received from readers begins to run strongly against them. A political columnist may well be hired for the specific purpose of creating controversy, building a following, and enhancing readership, but reaching that objective is a common reason for termination.
The irony of establishing a successful political column is that a columnist can easily lose his job if he achieves too high a degree of reader response. Editors and publishers, realizing that advertising is the lifeblood of their operation, become fearful when a political columnist generates excessive negative mail or phone calls. If some of this mail arrives from advertising customers, then the columnist can count on his days being numbered. He will rarely receive a warning or notice from his superiors, and may simply awake to discover his column is no longer running in a publication.
A political columnist does deal heavily with the public, usually via phone or email, and must be possessed of an extremely thick skin. He will occasionally be congratulated or praised by readers, but those who agree with the writings and opinions of a columnist rarely make their voices heard. Those who are angered by a columnist's viewpoints and positions will be quick to respond, and it is not unusual for their complaints to be loud, rude, and insulting. An experienced political columnist will view such negative contact as a sign that he is doing his job. Many columnists feel that the primary objective of their craft is simply to make people think.
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