Newspapers need more columnists

These days, whenever veteran journalists at the top of their games leave the newspaper business, it’s bad. Out goes the institutional memory, experience and writing/reporting chops that readers have come to trust. Whenever a columnist leaves the paper, it’s doubly bad. Out goes the personality, wit and style that readers have come to love…or hate.

North Carolina newspapers have lost some great ones in the past few years, too. The News & Record’s Lorraine Ahearn returned to school to earn a doctorate. The same month — August 2010 — the News & Observer announced that one of its longtime columnists, Ruth Sheehan, was headed to law school.

Now, Tommy Tomlinson, columnist with the Charlotte Observer, is leaving the paper to write for a sports website. And with his typical grace, he describes what everyone who leaves a job they love feels:

Sometimes, when you’re going down the highway, you can look over and see another road running beside the one you’re on. I’ve spent a lot of time on the highway, and I’ve often wondered about those people on the other road, how the world might look from over there, how our journeys might be different even though the direction is the same.

The thing is, you can’t know unless you take the other road.

I hope the Observer replaces him. Good columnists are expensive and hard to keep in the corral and feisty. And worth every penny. As people are finding fewer and fewer reasons to pick up a newspaper, newspapers should hire more columnists. The news is everywhere; a compelling writer with a strong personality and deep insight isn’t.