Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In the public interest

"I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a reporter. I don't know where I got the idea that it was a romantic calling."
-Charles Kuralt

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

Nobody gets into the newspaper industry for the money. Of all the things ever said or written about print media and the daily deadline, I think I can definitively say that getting rich just ain’t one of them. I have worked with some people whose motivating factors were less than noble: People who rested on their proverbial laurels and never tried to hit above the mark and others who have more passion for controlling headlines and bylines that they forget the true meaning of the free press.

Because all of my journalist heroes - who include everyone from Woodward and Bernstein to Bill Moushey and Scott Beveridge - innately feel that their jobs are greater than their egos. The true newspaper men and women know somewhere in them that they are the purveyors of truth and the official record of our daily lives. And despite what some people might have a person believe, greatness of a newspaper man stems from the idea that a free America is rooted in the idea of a free press.

You can lay a newspaper man (or woman) off, but you can’t take those philosophical ideologies away because those professional standards are at the heart of why we go to work each day - each morning starting anew. And to be one of the best of us, heart is what matters most. Reporting is about a natural curiosity and comfort with asking questions - even the cruelest or the saddest ones - and about believing that we are more like the fictional Super Man than his dayside character Clark Kent.

I was counseled by Gene Collier, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, when he reviewed some of my college work and taught me that the first thing young writers have to learn is how to be unafraid. I thought I got it then, but I know I get it now. There’s being afraid of writing, and being afraid of reporting. But I like to think that maybe he meant that the great ones aren’t afraid of being great on any given deadline - to be ready for their questions to have answers that can effect change… That help prove my point that, most of all, a newspaper man must believe in his heart that he is - above all things - a public servant by nature.

When I sat it hours-long meetings in Anytown, Pa. during my six or so years as a professional, it could get boring. It count get technical. It could be about sewage and variances and stuff I thought I might need either a law or an engineering degree to even begin to understand. But I counseled myself with the knowledge that while I was there technically and professional to represent the various publications for which I wrote, there was something in me that knew that my role in those municipal building and board rooms was more.

I reminded myself when my mind wandered to the after-work beer or weekend event that I was there to serve the interests of the public -- to ensure that the public bodies conducting business by the books, and to let the people know in their absentia about the events that will, in some way or another, affect their daily lives.

America is a land built on checks and balances, and I really believe that a free press is one of them. At the very least, I believe even my most mundane stories helped someone, whether it be about a tap-in fee or a detour or crime in the area. I had the privilege of writing about a Washington neighborhood's struggle with drugs and a questionable response from the city. I was giddy when Beveridge and I were awarded first place for enterprise reporting by the Associated Press. But that was nothing in comparison to how I felt when the two of us went back to "The Hill" and chronicled the goings on there one year later.

Stuff had changed. Drug dealers were in jail. A new leader had been elected. And while I would never be so arrogant as to say I had any direct role in that process, I will be so arrogant to know that maybe journalism did. That is why I feel so happy that, even though I am unemployed at the moment, I am still a newspaper woman. I am still trying to be that voice of truth (and as I write I do realize how corny I sound). While I take pride in every story I tell, I am particularly pleased to be again volunteering for The Innocence Institute of Point Park University.

Moushey runs it, and the work he and his students have done has helped bring light to some injustices. I was lucky enough to be part of its flagship investigation in the deaths of two small-time Bear Rocks drug peddlers that led to the conviction of a man named David Munchinski. As a senior at Point Park, I was part of a small group of students who reviewed thousands of pages of documents and wrote a story filled with information casting doubt about the man’s innocence. Munchinski’s attorney, Noah Geary, is still fighting a legal battle in federal court, arguing for his immediate release.

Working with an organization you know can change lives helps me remember the best of journalism at a time when the medium I grew to love to the point of being cheesey is in what many people have come to believe is gasping its dying breaths. During a conversation a few moments ago with a peer and fellow newspaper geek (ie: laid-off reporter) we recalled some of the worst calls we’ve seen in our brief careers in newspapers. It is too easy to remember the bad stories, the bad editors, the bad days and the small paychecks. It is easy to say, “To hell with it, I want to be in public relations. Newspapers are dying anyway.”

But its people like Beveridge and Moushey and organizations like The Innocence Institute that remind me of what the best of journalism is. So while I weather this newspaper storm (confident that while inky print may die, it role in society never will) I still aspire to be one of the best of us.

Employed or not.

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for the Valley Independent in Monessen, Pa. She can be reached by e-mail at


  1. Very true, Amanda. Revealing ugly secrets definitely is one of the perks to the job. Although we might not be on the public payroll, reporters certainly are public servants. Someone has to keep government honest, and I wonder who will once there are just a handful of reporters who are able to dig up dirt.