4. Column Writing
RCS: You were a 1997 Pulitzer Prize finalist, which means we can compare you to great writers such as George Will, William Safire, Thomas Friedman, David Broder and Dave Berry. You've since become a face of Monday Night Football and co-host the most popular sports commentary show on television. But you haven't written a column since 2006. How much do you miss writing?
Kornheiser: I miss writing enough that I wouldn’t do it anymore. I can’t cause I’m no good anymore. I do all the major media mediums. I do radio. I do TV. I do newspapers. I respect print more than anything else. I’ve stopped being able to sit down. When I was kid I was pretty good at doing takeouts -- you know, stories of length. Stories that required much reporting, much interviewing, much time to sit down and do it. Stories that would run 3000 to 3500 words. That would hopefully set the person, if not in stone, certainly something close to stone for that moment in time.
As I’ve mentioned before -- Frank Deford, Curry Kirkpatrick, and Dan Jenkins -- those were the meat and potatoes stories that those guys did. Great writers of the N.Y. Times did those long profiles and then found magazine work doing those long profiles. A guy at Esquire over a 20-year period, Tom Junod. Fabulous. Gary Smith, SI. Fabulous doing those.
I would never attempt to do that anymore -- cause I can’t. I realized I wasn’t capable of doing that anymore. Then I became a columnist. And I was pretty good at that, and I moved away from doing longer columns because I began to do radio and television. I tried to write shorter columns and gave it the term "columnettes." And they were short, rapid bursts, and you could see in them the influence of television and the influence of radio.
But more so television 'cause radio is a longer forum and you could write a column. I used to do this on radio. I would write the column I wrote for the newspaper. It wouldn’t be as nuanced and it wouldn’t have words that I could ponder and that I could decide which word would be perfect for this sentence 'cause it’s more free form. But when you write for television, as I do for PTI, when you write these lead-ins for these things, it’s a burst; it’s a machine gun; sort of just like a rat tat tat tat tat. That’s not what extended writing is, that’s not what column writing is. Column writing is more thoughtful, extended writing.
Takeout writing is innocently more thoughtful. It has to be more elegant and nuanced. There’s not a real great market for elegance and nuance on television. It’s just sort of sounds. When you write for television like I do, you want to sound smart, but you don’t want to sound pretentious. You don’t want to sound overly flowery. A lot of the things you do in takeouts when you’re trying to write a killer paragraph -- I mean an absolute killer, knock-‘em-dead-in-the-streets, makes-you-wanna-holler, throw-up-both-your-hands paragraph -- you can’t do that for television. It’s falling on a different set of ears. It’s on ears and not eyes. I can’t write in the way I used to write, and if I can’t do that then what’s the point of writing? I’m just not good enough to do it anymore.
I love newspapers and I’m watching them die. All I ever wanted to be was a newspaper writer. I didn’t necessarily want to be a newspaper columnist. I got to that point after 15 years in the business. I just wanted to write for newspapers and I did that a long time ago and I was perfectly happy.