Columnist discusses his role in the Valley

Bill McEwen knows the power that 550 words can have on a community. As The Fresno Bee’s metro columnist, he informed a crowd of the Friends of the Madden Library this past Friday of the importance of the written word.

McEwen, who has worked for The Bee since 1980, spoke at the Alice Peters Auditorium Friday evening. He discussed the impact that columns like his can have on their readers.

McEwen said he is allowed the freedom of primarily focusing his columns’ topics on news straight from the headlines.

“Editorial columns like mine have the unique position of providing a certain point-of-view on a subject,� McEwen said. “In 550 words or less, I must enlighten and inform — finding a way to make it entertaining at the same time.�

The Friends of the Madden Library, an organization that recognizes members of the community who support Fresno State’s library through donations, partnered with The Fresno Bee this year to inform its members of the newspaper’s role in the Central Valley.

“McEwen only gets 550 words for his columns. That’s not much, but he gets to tip a lot of sacred cows,� Mike Graves, director of the Friends of the Madden Library, said.

Graves said he knew McEwen would make a great installment to the list of speakers from The Bee, because he is experienced in the field of journalism.

“McEwen provided a great presentation,� Graves said. “His insight allowed for the Friends to understand The Bee’s journalistic voice of the Valley.�

McEwen said the newspaper today is one of the last forms of the media that addresses complex story ideas, intended especially for the family audience.

“The newspaper is still a generalized media,� McEwen said. “It illuminates both the good and bad in society, acting as the conscious of the community.�

Through the 550 words that McEwen is allowed in his columns that run three days a week — Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays — he said he aims to get people curious.

“My goal is to provide readers with a slice of life, a flight of fancy, a spotlight on everyday people doing everyday things,� McEwen said.

McEwen also said his column ideas help in the process of jolting his reader’s curiosity.

“It’s a part of your DNA,� McEwen said. “You either see a column, or you don’t.�

David Tyckoson, Friends of the Madden Library member and head of public services at the library, said McEwen’s ability to choose and organize his column topics is precisely why he avidly reads his work.

“I read every column that McEwen writes,� Tyckoson said. “And while I don’t always agree with his point of view, I do admire the way he lays out his information.�

Tyckoson also said he looks forward to reading McEwen’s columns because they evoke emotions in people that other columns just can’t reach.

“His writing is always so provocative,� Tyckoson said. “That’s exactly what keeps me coming back for more.�

McEwen ended his talk to the Friends of the Madden Library with a question and answer session, informing his audience of the significance of the written word.

According to McEwen, generations of people can be affected by how a columnist writes and what they choose to write about.

“Ultimately, the voice of a journalist is important because it can teach people how crucial it is to invest in themselves,� McEwen said. “Too, making the future of our children and grandchildren is important.�

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