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Columnists' Secrets Revealed!

How to fine-tune your gut reactions

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Here's a secret: Columnists are human (except maybe Charles Krauthammer), and we have gut reactions to news stories like everyone else. Maureen Dowd, Tommy Tomlinson -- they don't wake up every morning thinking in well-crafted paragraphs. The insights and wisdom you read in the paper started out as gut reactions -- usually to a news event, or sometimes to a reader's comment. You can't just vent and call it a column. (OK, maybe Ann Coulter can get away with it, but generally we leave that kind of thing to Bill O'Reilly or all those radio talk show hosts.)

So this week, I offer a behind-the-scenes look at how one columnist (me) creates the masterpieces you love to read, tell your friends about, and then use as wrapping for your potato and carrot peelings. Below is a series of recent news items, followed in each case by my first gut reaction, and then by my final, carefully crafted version. (You may think the gut reactions are more honest, but hey, I'm just playing by the rules of the columnist game.)

Item: School board names three finalists for school superintendent post.

Gut reaction: Goddamn, is this the best these clowns can come up with? "Helmet Head" Haithcock and her same-old, same-old; the superintendent from friggin' Greensboro, of all places; and a business geek yuppie from California looking to pump up his resume?

Final version: Although we are disappointed that more nationally renowned candidates were not selected, we hope upcoming public forums will prove us wrong.

Item: Union County murder trial witness says he was promised immunity in exchange for providing false testimony.

Gut reaction: Crooked prosecutors? Hey, there's a shock.

Final version: These allegations need to be fully probed and, if true, should lead to criminal charges being filed.

Item: The NC lottery finally cranks up.

Gut reaction: Great! Maybe I'll win big and be able to retire to the Riviera.

Final version: Citizens should be careful not to buy too many tickets for what is, after all, a game of chance that very few will find profitable.

Item: Brooklyn, NY, gallery features a large sculpture of Britney Spears giving birth on a bearskin rug, called "Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston."

Gut reaction: What the f ... ?! That's so weird I don't even know how to react -- plus, the statue looks like some kind of weird porn.

Final version: It will be interesting to see how pro-life supporters react to being celebrated via a graphic, nude statue.

Item: Immigration issue heats up nationwide.

Gut reaction: Why in hell aren't blacks and gays more visible on this issue? I mean, most of the send-them-back yahoos would ship them out of the country, too, if they had a chance.

Final version: It's disappointing mainstream civil rights groups, including advocates for African-Americans and the GLBT community, haven't supported immigrants' rights more vigorously.

Item: The mayor and city tourism honcho don't want Charlotte to bid for the '08 GOP convention because it would disrupt building of NASCAR Hall.

Gut reaction: Hey, could you guys possibly make the city look a little more goober-ish?

Final version: Surely there is enough ingenuity on the city staff to manage both at the same time.

Item: Christian conservatives pay Tom DeLay to speak at big "War On Christians" conference.

Gut reaction: Jesus, what a bunch of hypocritical assholes.

Final version: Religious leaders who are quick to criticize others' moral choices might think twice about consorting with Mr. Corruption himself.

Item: Bobby Brown's sister tells British paper that Whitney Houston is addicted to crack.

Gut reaction: No, you're kidding! I am so shocked.

Final version: No, you're kidding! I am so shocked.

Item: Experts say use of profanity is on the rise in the US.

Gut reaction: No shit, Sherlock.

Final version: Hopefully, we can find a way to balance public decency with freedom of expression, blah blah blah.

I hope I've given you an idea of the hard work and talent, not to mention restraint, it takes to bring you the columns you love. See you next time, and have a good week!

john.grooms@creativeloafing.com

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