This week my friend John Hawkins released his annual ranking of the 50 best conservative columnists. A very generous guy, John included me on the list. And ahead of George Will too!
I wonder, though: what does it mean to be a columnist today?
Well, what qualifies as a column? The defining characteristics, which I invite others to dispute or refine in the comments: A) a regular appearance usually either weekly or bi-weekly, B) a standard word count in the range of 600-1500 words, and C) usually with a focus on opinion, analysis, or entertainment — not “objective,” fly-on-the-wall journalism.
But that’s the Old School understanding I learned in journalism classes in the pre-blogosphere days. Now in the New Media era a “column” counts as any piece of writing and “columnist” doubles for “writer.” And that’s fine — language evolves and we only gain so much from playing the semantics game. Here at PJ Media we call our all-star team of writers “Columnists” even though the content they produce ranges across the spectrum from blog posts to journalistic articles to traditional op/ed columns to extended essays on to Ed Driscoll’s podcasts and Zombie’s unforgettable photos.
But the truth is that the name does still fit for most of the PJ Columnists, and pressed to answer John’s challenge to provide “YOUR LIST of the best conservative columnists” I’d have to actually create two, the first of those I edit now and the second of those I wouldn’t mind editing someday. The 10 PJ columnists who predominantly write on a regular basis in the “newspaper column” style, of a 600-1500+ word, opinionated, elegantly stylized analysis (in no ranked order):
Roger L. Simon, Barry Rubin, Andrew Klavan, Roger Kimball, Michael Walsh, Andrew C. McCarthy, Claudia Rosett, David P. Goldman, Victor Davis Hanson, and Michael Ledeen
The other PJ Columnists I’d classify as top-tier bloggers (Stephen Green, Ed Driscoll, Helen Smith and Blog Father Glenn Reynolds) and deep essayists (Ron Radosh and Ion Mihai Pacepa.) J. Christian Adams’s Rule of Law, Richard Fernandez’s Belmont Club, and the mysterious Zombie transcend categorization in their own unique ways — the three of them have each taken the tools of New Media to innovate their own new mediums.
So about that second list… I decided to take John’s list and A) edit it down to my top 10 choices, B) re-order counting down to the best, C) throw on 5 more conservative columnists I adore who John neglected to include.
But here’s the problem: I’m fairly confident about the ranking of only the top 2. I could see legitimate reasons for why one should rank higher or lower than others.
So for my top 20 list of Best Conservative Columnists (forthcoming soon here at PJ Lifestyle) I thought I’d first hear the arguments of others about A) who should go where, B) which five additional columnists deserve inclusion, and C) if anyone I’ve already selected does not warrant placement.
Weighing who goes where requires juggling multiple factors:
- Strength of prose.
- Originality of voice and personality.
- Quality, creativity, and effectiveness of arguments.
- Is the column really their best medium?
- Consistency of quality. (A great columnist needs to be strong every week — they can’t constantly hit or miss.)
- Impact they have on shaping both the current debates and conservative thought.
So here’s version 1 of the list. (I’ve put John’s ranking in parentheses after their name if they appeared on his list.)
15. Seth Mandel (not included)
14. Jonathan V. Last (not included)
13. Sean Trende (16)
12. Frank Gaffney (not included)
11. Ben Shapiro (20)
10. Walter Williams (6)
9. Jonah Goldberg (5)
8. Michael Barone (14)
7. Charles Krauthammer (17)
6. Daniel Pipes (not included)
5. Dennis Prager (13)
4. Mark Steyn (1)
3. Stanley Kurtz (not included)
2. Thomas Sowell (2)
1. Ann Coulter (4)
As stated, I’m not planning on budging on my last two choices — and will make my arguments in the completed list. But if anyone would like to make the case against Thomas Sowell and Ann Coulter as the Conservative Movement’s two top writing MVPs, then by all means…
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