Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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Outtakes—Good Rage

By Rick Outzen

I have an affinity for newspaper columnists. Everyone thinks they can be one, but that belief usually lasts until the third or fourth deadline.

Good columnists develop a unique voice that rings true with the reader. The words can make one laugh or cry, elicit anger or compassion. My standard joke about writing “Outtakes” is that I only know 500 words and the trick is putting them in a different order every week.

On Sunday, we lost one of the best newspaper columnist ever, Jimmy Breslin. The New York City journalist and best-selling author died on Sunday at his Manhattan home while recovering from pneumonia at age of 88.

The late New York Newsday and Village Voice editor Donald Frost said of Breslin, “Jimmy invented himself. He was irascible, extremely talented and very, very hard working. And he understood what news was.”

I didn’t know Breslin personally, but I appreciated his writing. I studied “It’s an Honor,” his column about Clifton Pollard, the man who dug President John Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, and analyzed how he helped his readers care about the AIDS epidemic in a column by focusing on one man, David Camacho.

Breslin taught me to look for unique angles to cover a huge story. It’s why I wrote about the tragic death of Victor Steen, a black teenager run over by a Pensacola Police officer, through the eyes of his mother. To humanize the Deep Horizon explosion, I traveled to Eunice, La. to visit the family of Blair Manuel, one of the 11 men killed on the rig.

Newspaper columnists don’t care about website clicks, Facebook likes, retweets or Instagram. They care about people and making the reader care, too.

When asked what motivated him, Breslin said, “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”

The rage pushes us to challenge the powerful and shine light into the dark corners that they want to be hidden from the rest of us. It drives us to ask that extra question and not accept just any answer as being the truth. The rage calls the newspaper columnist to elevate the powerless, whether they live in Queens, the Tanyard, Morris Court or Wedgewood, and give them a voice.

The rage drives us to dig deeper into jail deaths, challenge BP, and point out the “elephants in the room” that others choose to ignore because the lift is too heavy, like the failing Escambia County School District.

Jimmy Breslin kept his rage alive for more than half a century. Mine isn’t going out anytime soon.