Journalism lessons learned over 30 years

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

The fine folks at The Destin Log first asked me to write some guest columns not long after I started my own real estate company many years ago. I was an unlikely choice; I had no experience as a writer, but said OK anyway. Perhaps some real estate advice would get my start-up company some free publicity. So, I started reading reference books on journalism and how to write effectively. That was 30 years ago, and I am still learning. As a side benefit, being a better writer makes one a better reader - you learn more. Here are a few things that I learned about newspaper writing:

There is a difference between a newspaper article and a newspaper column. Articles contain only facts; opinions are not welcome. As TVs Sgt. Joe Friday always said, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Writing a column is different. Columnists are free to write almost anything since it is only their opinion, not purported to be factual. If challenged, they can always say: “Just my opinion ma’am.”

You can easily spot the difference, even at a distance. Look at the first few pages of this or any other newspaper. You will notice that both the left and right-hand text margins are lined up vertically in a straight line. It is called left and right-hand margin justification. These are thus called “articles.”

Next, look at the Opinion page. You will see that the right-hand margin is uneven, looking a little ragged by comparison. It is not right-hand justified. These are thus called “columns.”

Anyone can write his or her opinion on anything with little regard to the facts. However, I aspire to a higher standard. I strive to write my opinion columns based on provable facts. By doing so, they are more credible.

It is OK, even desirable, to state facts in an opinion column. But it is not OK to weave opinion in with facts in a news article. Unfortunately, there are too many news “reporters” who sneak their opinions into what is supposed to be only the facts. The liberal Associated Press and New York Times come to mind.

When you read my Destin Log columns, (and I hope you do) keep in mind that they are based on my opinion, which in turn, is based on facts. Here is a real-life example: If I write that the Gulf Power buyout study cost Destin taxpayers $58,500, that is a fact. If I write that it was just another waste of taxpayer money, that is an opinion.

When covering a controversy (which is often), I try to present both sides. Hence, my Heaven or Hell series about HOA’s, tourism and City Hall. Look for more of these in future columns. You can be a part of them. Please keep your comments coming. I need and appreciate them. It makes my job a lot easier.

Jack Simpson has owned and managed rental properties in Destin since 1974 and has lived in the city since 1983. His column is designed to start conversations in the community. To respond to Jack’s column in The Log, email your letter to the editor or guest column to To contact Jack directly, email