Copy editors ... write columns

Matt Smith began his journalism career as a reporter for the Grosse Pointe (Mich.) News, where he covered cops, courts, schools and local government. He began writing a column when he moved to the Advisor & Source Newspapers in the Detroit suburbs, where he wrote features, general assignment stories and covered local government and schools. After a stint as assistant editor at The County Press in Michigan’s Thumb, he arrived at the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as a copy editor, where he primarily handles news pages.

But enough bio. Why does he also write columns? “I love to write,” he says, adding that it’s “gratifying to throw out a notion and see the readers respond to it.”

Smith threw out a couple of examples.

“One of the school districts in the county won a bond election to build a second high school a few years ago. I did a column where I said that was the easy part; now the district needs a killer mascot. After all, you wouldn’t want a $75 million high school to be represented by the Scarlet Creampuffs or the Fighting Amish, would you?

“So, I threw it to the readers: What do you want the mascot to be called? I got three weeks of columns out of running reader mail on that topic, which was a great response. One grade-school teacher even sent along the results of a poll on the mascot name from her class. (The reader favorite - and eventual mascot name - was Patriots.)

“Then, on the other hand, you can write something you consider fairly innocuous and kick up a firestorm of criticism.

“A couple of years ago, Starbucks Coffee was looking at building a store in the county. I took that development as a launching point for a column on the reasons I like coffee, and mentioned that if Starbucks is coming, that’s good news because it means more coffee for me. Fun, light-hearted stuff, right?

“Then some of the coffee snobs in the county replied, suggesting that I was endorsing something on the order of coffee genocide, if there is such a thing, and that I needed to turn in my man card for saying so.

“I think these folks would be better off if they switched to decaf. But, as a columnist, you take the bad with the good, and just be glad you have readers who care about what you say.”

You might find a Smith column in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus' 14-day archive, but we’ve posted a few here to give you an idea of the breadth of a copy editor’s skills and interests.

One more thing: Smith got the chance to write the column because of one simple thing. He asked. If you’ve ever done any fundraising, you’ve learned the power of asking. Just remember Rule No. 2: Even if you’re turned down, you’re in no worse shape than you are now. What’s rule No. 1? Keep asking.

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