How do you think this column is produced?
Do you picture an earnest middle-aged woman in a green eyeshade typing furiously on an ancient Underwood by the flickering glow of an oil lamp?
Better change it up just a little.
Substitute a laptop with a lightning-fast Internet connection, add a mean little herding dog who hates children but likes snoozing at the feet of said columnist. When I'm not in the office, that's the nerve center of the Lake Front column, with headquarters in the comfort of a pink La-Z-Boy sandwiched into the same room as two sewing machines and a world of scrapbooking supplies.
The goal is to provide thoughtful columns that get you, dear reader, to apply a little brain power and sometimes to respond. Other times, the point is to help someone who is in a bad way or to shed light on a government wasting taxpayer money.
Sometimes columns require going personally to some event or to some back closet to dig out records. Other times, it's best to work in the fastest manner to get the word out, and that often is by computer.
A columnist, however, is not a news reporter, and it's important to understand the difference.
My colleagues here at the Lake Sentinel are assigned to cover specific topics and areas of the county. I'm not. I get to ramble around and choose what interests me. Editors don't assign topics to write about or order which view to take.
Most often, reporters write about larger-picture issues and the effect on Lake residents. I usually carve a small slice of an issue and put it under a microscope.
For example, Leesburg's reporter wrote about a proposed technology and aerospace park, and my take on the subject was a column that said the city should have involved the public in making decisions about the project.
The biggest difference, however, is that news reporters are required to be fair and represent all sides of an issue. My job is precisely the opposite. My purpose is to research an issue and take a position. Then, I write it in a persuasive way with the hope of getting you to think like I do.
Some folks, upon learning this, say, "Oh, it's opinion" as if the word opinion is synonymous with the word fabricated. An opinion is worthwhile only if it is based on fact, and that's how we try do it here at Lake Front.
When you, dear reader, stubbornly persist in maintaining your own opinion, I sometimes open the column to give folks a sample of what others in the community are thinking.
All news outlets strive to be a respected place where the community can exchange and comment on each other's ideas. However, this past year has seen a rise in a troubling trend in Lake County: the anonymous, vicious voice.
Cowardly people increasingly are making libelous accusations, often on unsigned community blogs. The goal seems to be to unleash pent-up venom, not to make a contribution for thoughtful consideration.
This behavior is wrong, and it's potentially damaging to a community. Consider that one economic-development expert told a gathering of Lake officials a few months back that companies routinely search blogs and Internet billboards looking for the tone of discussion in a community where they're considering relocation.
Such blogs don't provide a legitimate forum for public debate. They only provide cover for liars. Please don't tell me that you must be anonymous because you fear retaliation from the powerful political forces in Lake County. C'mon. That's absurd on its face.
You won't find anonymous, unsubstantiated allegations published in this column. What you will find is an opinion based on facts. You may interpret the facts differently and come to a different conclusion. That's OK. But let's disagree in a respectful manner.
So, with those guidelines in mind, let's plunge right into the new year. Among the most important of issues is how to attract new businesses to Lake County.
What can Lake government do to make this area a desirable destination for businesses that have jobs to provide? Let's hear from you.
Lritchie@orlandosentinel.com Her blog is online at http://www.orlandosentinel.com/laurenonlake