9. What Makes a great Column?
RCS: One looking for advice could also read your column after last year’s Super Bowl, “Amazing March,” which was featured on the Wall St. Journal’s Best Sportswriting of 2008, with the praise, “Writing on deadline after one of the most remarkable Super Bowls ever, Vaccaro re-created the game’s most remarkable drive….[and] captured every crucial moment.” Speaking about yourself and others, what distinguishes a great column from a good one?
Vaccaro: Man, I love that question because it really does get to the essence of what I do for a living. To me, writing a column is beyond fun, to the point of privilege; we really do have more license than anyone else to do certain things, and it's a crime, in my mind, when we don't.
A great column must have four elements to me:
You start with superior writing, which is one foundation.
You add quality reporting as the other bedrock; to me, a column can never be great if it is written entirely off the top of your head (and I've done my share of those; if you write 200 of them a year, some are done almost through meatball surgery, so a sad fact is they can't all be great).
Third: your voice has to be in there. Has to be. There are some talented writers who have their picture in the paper but what they do is write glorified sidebars. To NOT utilize your voice is cheating the reader, I believe. He or she HAS to know you have a perspective or a point of view in what you're saying.
Last, a great column reads like a miniature book: a beginning, a middle and an end, all of them thought through, all of them interconnected.
You may not get many great ones in the course of a year, but when you do I can't think of a higher high.