What Does a Magazine Columnist Do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 07 May 2020
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A magazine columnist prepares a piece for publication in a magazine on a regular basis. Columns can include a variety of content, depending on the publication and the beat that the writer is expected to cover. Some offer opinion and commentary on social and political events, for example. Others may provide color or flavor, or might use a column to answer queries from readers and provide general information that may be useful for members of the public.

Columnists work closely with an editor to determine the scope of their coverage and the parameters of their columns. They typically have a specific word range to meet with each piece that may stay consistent if the publication plans on setting aside a specific space in the layout for the writer. Editors may assign columns or discuss topics with their writers to decide what to cover, or the writer may be given a more free hand. More leeway is usually reserved for notable commentators who have a large following.

For opinion and commentary, the magazine columnist considers the publication and the market to decide what to discuss. In a food magazine, for example, the column might talk about trends in the foodie community, restaurant etiquette, or ethical topics related to food production. Political publications might look for columnists who talk about current political issues like elections, foreign policy moves, and pending legislation. Community interest publications might request a local color column discussing businesses, traditions, and events.

Some magazine columnists run a question and answer, offering advice to readers on subjects like personal finance, etiquette, or home improvement. Letters can be selected by columnists or their assistants in consultation with an editor, and these become the basis of the assignment. Whether commentating or giving advice, the magazine columnist needs to consider the editorial standards and mission of the publication in the framing of the column.

Writing a column can require consulting experts and other references to make sure the information is accurate. The magazine columnist may be asked to work with a fact checker, depending on the type of material. In the event of a controversy over a column, a response to readers may be required. This could take the form of an apology for a poorly considered column or incorrect information, or a detailed discussion of the reasoning behind a particular subject and angle.

It is possible to be a magazine columnist for more than one publication, or to have a column syndicated across a network of related magazines. Columnists may also support themselves by writing feature articles as well as giving lectures. Some may use their columns as a starting point to develop book projects and move into other media, like television.


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