Monday, February 16, 2009

Howard Troxler's Visit: Be worthy of readers' time

I believe I can speak for the rest of my Critical Writing class when I describe Howard Troxler’s recent visit unlike any other that we have experienced.

Troxler, a metro columnist for the St. Petersburg Times, writes about local and state issues. His columns appear Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the Times’ Metro and Tampa sections.

His enthusiasm for column writing and what he does for a living shone through as he moved swiftly around the room, speaking rapidly about his memorable columns and providing us with his professional insight.

Described as franchised by Mr. Thelen, Troxler sipped quietly from his water bottle at first. He didn’t sit still for long.

As a newspaper columnist, Troxler explained that his main job is to be worthy of readers’ time. A column varies in its tone.

“It can be angry, sarcastic, bitter, but in some way, worth the readers’ time,” he said.

A column’s subject matter could be presented in any of these ways, however, as Troxler explained, it’s important to find the best way in which to explain the matter. I can understand his point; for any given column, you want readers to challenge their previous mindset about the subject at hand and be able to see your point of view. Your message will really hit home if it’s expressed in the best way.

He described the characteristics of a column: Clear- crystal clear. Absolutely accessible. Have the reader hooked in a short time.

Grip the reader in the column’s very beginning.

“I’m desperate for them to stay,” he said. “Kind of a panicky kind of thing.”

Troxler added that a columnist has to bring the readers’ in, acknowledge their fear, or anger, and then you’ve got to convince them.

Troxler spoke about his past columns. As he described each one, something triggered inside him and his words sped up in a passionate fury. Once again, he moved swiftly around the room. He scratched his peppered head. He hit a nearby desk with his balled fist.

Everyone’s eyes followed him as he spoke.

Everyone listened.

Troxler said that most of the time, a column should be based on some new information or some gathering of information, beyond just the writer sitting around being clever.

“It can’t just be you sitting around, spewing about the world,” he said. I agree with this; columnists shouldn't merely express their opinion- research must be conducted so that they can express an informed opinion.

Troxler spoke a bit about blogging as well.

He had a blog which drew in thousands of views and much traffic. He even conducted interactive chats with his blog readers. As Troxler got more involved with blogging, however, he noticed the quality of his print columns began to decline.

In my opinion, Troxler seems to have much freedom at work, unlike other writers.

“I’m probably the only communist in the news section who pretty much has license to write my opinion,” he said.

What a sweet career.