Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Best Newspaper Columns of All Time

Pretty fascinating piece I came across on Twitter recently with Charlotte Observer columnist Tommy Tomlinson linking to a Wall Street Journal blog entry titled "What’s the Best Newspaper Column of All Time?"

An arbitrary question to be sure, but interesting nonetheless.

Actual listing was done courtesy of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists with the story from their website being "Top Ten American Columns in History". Linked to from both the WSJ and this piece was a 31 page PDF of what was said to be the top fifteen (I know, the story was titled "top ten") columns. One through fifteen ranking was then determined by picks from both members of the Society and the general public.

After reading both the ranking and the stories, I kind of wish I had seen the stories first so as to not influence which ones stood out to me, but below were my personal favorites in no particular order (with links I was able to find directly to the pieces)...

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa ClausFrances Pharcellus Church – New York Sun – 9/21/1897

The Death of Captain Waskow - Ernie Pyle - Scripps Howard – 1/10/44

It’s an Honor - Jimmy Breslin - New York Herald Tribune - November 1963

Daley Embodied Chicago – Mike Royko – Chicago Sun Times – 12/21/76

We’ll Go Forward From This MomentLeonard Pitts Jr. – Miami Herald – 9/11/01

All were pretty short, but powerful in their own distinct ways.

The piece by Pitts practically overpowers the reader with it's imagery, and those by both Breslin and Pyle work to great effect in a much more understated way. The Church story is just plain famous (and good) and the Royko story (around the middle of the PDF previously linked) has what I'd consider to be some iconic phrases... noted below because I thought they were just so darn great:

"So when Daley slid sideways into a sentence, or didn’t exit from the same paragraph he
entered, it amused us."

"The town was built by great men who demanded the drunkards and harlots be arrested,
while charging them rent until the cops arrived."


Really good writing linked here (granted, it is supposed to be The Best)... that said, I am a touch surprised to not see here Death of a Racehorse by W.C. Heinz for the New York Sun in 1949. I first heard of the piece from W.C. Heinz, 1915-2008 by Chris Jones for Esquire and found it to be definitely on par with the other great works in how each and every word has such heft behind it.