Column writing not all tea and roses

By Ned Cantwell

Advice to beginning column writers:
Don’t write about Billy the Kid unless you have a vague idea of what you are talking about.
If your knowledge of country music is limited to the notion it is all about a guy with a hangover who lost his dog a week after his wife ran away with the plumber, stay away from it.
And, for gosh sakes, get this through your head: Government giveaway programs for poor people are why poor people are poor.
These are lessons hard learned by a certain fictional columnist who for purposes of identification we will call “Cantwell.”
This guy wrote a column recently that suggested all the hoopla over murderer Billy the Kid made as much sense as naming a gambling place, say, the Ted Bundy Casino. It asked who cares if Billy is buried in Silver City or not? The guy wrote that Toby Keith’s song “I Miss Billy the Kid” is cultural pap.
The columnist’s troubles began when the piece was published in the Ruidoso News. Reader Darla Lathan questioned Toby Keith’s involvement with the song, crediting it, instead, to a singer named Billy Dean. Furthermore, Darla pointed out, as did reader Barbara Woolsey, Dean was singing about his childhood, not the outlaw.
The columnist, this “Cantwell” guy, checked a Web site, Winamp Playlist, that associated Toby Keith with the song, but realizing he had not the slightest idea of what a Winamp might be, sent out a correction to editors asking them to change the singer’s name to Billy Dean.
That’s when the phone rang. It was Clovis News Journal editor David Stevens. “Are you sure Billy the Kid was buried in Silver City? All the guys around here think it might have been Fort Sumner.” Back to the Internet. Turns out Billy’s mother was buried in Silver City.
Off goes another correction. The errors were corrected prior to being published in the Clovis paper. But you need to know this about editors on deadline — they need last-minute corrections like Tiger Woods needs a tennis racquet.
Another column this “Cantwell” guy wrote suggested poor people in New Mexico should get relief from the food tax by giving them a refund on their income tax.
“Dammit, Ned!” reader Marvin Burrows bellowed. “Why do you bleeding hearts want more and more for those people that contribute less and less to civilization? … How much proof do you need that the more you do for people, the less they will do for themselves, and the less pride they will have?”
Well, by golly, there’s a novel idea that had not occurred to the liberal puke columnist. No wonder 140,670 New Mexico families are living in poverty. The government is just doing too darn much for them.
Lea County reader Burrows thinks the Hobbs News Sun needs the “Cantwell” column like Cher needs wrinkles.
“And one more thing,” Burrows offered, “… in the Hobbs News Sun, at the bottom of your column, it says ‘Ned Cantwell is a retired newspaperman living in Ruidoso’ … Well, Ned, if you’re claiming to be retired, a lot of us wish to hell you’d do it. I mean, you’re smelling up the place.”
I’m just glad I am not that fictional “Cantwell” guy.

Ned Cantwell of Ruidoso is a retired newspaper publisher and member of the New Mexico Press Association Hall of Fame. E-mail him at: ncantwell@charter.net