NewsStreet Scribe

Celebrating Four Years of Street Scribe and 45 Years of Writing

Ed Tant (left) with historian Howard Zinn in 2004.

Happy New Year, dear readers! By a sweet coincidence, my first column of 2023 also happens to be the 100th Street Scribe column I have written for Flagpole since the column debuted nearly four years ago. Thanks to all the folks who have read my writings in Flagpole and in other publications since I began writing here in Athens more than 45 years ago, and thanks as well to those who have printed my work in their pages over the years. 

As our troubled old Earth begins another circuit of the sun, writers will never run out of subject matter. I’ll stop writing when things stop happening. 

In my time as an Athens-based writer, I have had the good fortune to bring my readers eyewitness impressions of history as it happened. Since the 1970s I have traveled some 50,000 miles by planes, trains and automobiles chasing stories ranging from space shuttle launches to political conventions to protest rallies to rock concerts. History is a fast-moving train, and it is the newspaper columnist’s job to hop aboard and document the trip, even when the train may be heading toward a dark and ominous tunnel. Newspaper readers in Athens and across America need quality local coverage of issues and events close to home, but readers also need perspectives on national and international stories. That’s where columnists come in. 

George Bernard Shaw was right when he said, “The man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and about all time.” In my life and through my writings, I have been lucky enough to see some historic times and meet some history-making people. A journal is defined as a personal record of events and observations, and columnists are journalists who keep a diary of their cities, their states, their nation and their world. Columnists must try to put a lot of information into a small amount of space and show readers the relevance of historic events to current news stories. “Infotainment” is not a bad word. Newspaper columnists should both inform and entertain. If the writer is having fun, chances are that the readers will as well. As a longtime columnist, I have enjoyed documenting newsworthy events with both pen and camera for local print media and for my website. There’s always an adrenaline rush to writing. The thrill is never gone. Best of all, I met my wife, Joy, when she wrote a letter to the editor in support of one of my columns 20 years ago. Like I said, the thrill is never gone. 

When I was growing up, there was a newspaper in the driveway every morning. Atlanta Constitution columnist Ralph McGill reached a wide readership around Georgia and the nation with his front-page editorials lambasting racial segregation in the Jim Crow South. McGill won a Pulitzer Prize for his columns, and he was influential for a whole generation of Southerners. It was an honor to meet him during a campus lecture more than fifty years ago. McGill was a columnist who wrote of his times and for all time. Though known for his political writings, McGill had the good sense to vary his subject matter. A McGill column slamming the hidebound and mossbacked segregated South might be followed by a Page One paean to good barbecue or a nostalgic piece about the red-clay dirt roads of rural Georgia. 

McGill was both loved and hated as a columnist, but he left a legacy for writers who followed. Opinion columnists like Molly Ivins in Texas and Tom Wicker in New York raised hackles and raised hell on the pages of newspapers, writing prose that brought both bouquets and brickbats from readers infatuated or infuriated by their words. In my time as a columnist, I have written about America in triumph or in tragedy. I have written about this nation’s hopes and its fears. I have learned what humor columnist Art Buchwald meant when he wrote, “You can’t make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you’re doing is recording it.”