Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The elephant in the newsroom

"Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love and then for a few close friends, and then for money." -Moliere

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

Please forgive me for starting with background, but sometimes it’s difficult to start a story at the beginning:

At the circus, after the trapeze artists had completed their leaps of daring, the clowns re-entered their tiny cars and the elephants were ushered away, an old man toiled where the large beasts had been paraded -- swearing under his breath.

He complained about the pay and the hours and the disrespect. A passerby couldn’t help but wonder at the man, whose intensity while scooping and piling the elephant dung was incongruent to the gentleman’s disgruntled tale of woe.

So he finally approached the man, ready to give a piece of advice -- perhaps instill a bit of hope. And he said, "Sir, I couldn’t help but hear your copious complaints about your job. If you get paid so little, you work such long hours and you get so little respect, simply quit."

To that, the struggling elephant dung scooper responded: "What? And leave show business?"

Having just surpassed my seventh month in the breadline, I feel more and more like this elephant dung guy everyday. And this past week, it was harder than it has been since I first got that pink slip. It was hardest then, not just because of the shock but because I felt like I had been officially excommunicated from the Church of Journalism and Latter Day Scribes. And I think my initial response was typical: I cried and moaned and felt sorry for myself.

Then I started to try to get my name back out there. I remembered what my Pap taught me: It matters if you work hard every time. It matters if you have heart and confidence. And above all things, he taught me, you never give up.

Not ever.

And while I had some setbacks over these last few months, I never had that feeling that I no longer belonged with those brave souls who, despite news of furloughs and bankruptcies, go into the office everyday to tell a story that wouldn’t otherwise be told. These days, I work mostly for $50 a story. Sometimes I write as many as three stories a week. I try not to think about how some of the full-time reporters I know make hundreds of dollars more a week for the same (or less) copy output.

I do this because of a deep-seated belief that journalism isn’t about the money. To me, it’s about the truths and checks and balances. I never stopped believing that journalism can change the world. So, despite not being a full-time member of the local media society, I still clung to those ideals. I felt that they were not only commonplace among my fellows, but a necessary quality in the best of us.

Then last Friday I ran into a few of my favorite Pittsburgh reporters in a local watering hole. Three of the gentlemen were college mentors -- men I looked up to not only because of their undeniable talent and passion, but because at one point or another they each told me during some dark hour: You can do this. And you can’t put a value on that -- or the fact that your professional hero believes in you at a time when your belief in yourself was waning.

At some point that Friday, an argument seemed eminent and I stepped in between one of my heroes and one of my best friends and said, "Let’s not argue tonight. We’re all professionals here."

The hero? He laughed at me.

The man looked at me and laughed in my face as if "Amanda B. Gillooly" and "professional" in the same sentence was the funniest damn thing he’d ever heard. And I wish I could tell you I laughed it off. I wish I could tell you I bought a fresh beer, dumped it in his lap and told him that actions such as those would come from someone who wasn’t a professional.

But I was too hurt. Working for $50 a story is tough enough. You don’t need your heroes making you feel like nothing more than a newspaper whore.

So I find myself feeling much like the elephant dung guy as I sit here pondering my future. And despite everything, I keep coming back to the same thing...

"What? And leave journalism?"

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for The Innocence Institute of Point Park University and She can be reached by e-mail at


  1. A professional wouldn't have laughed at a struggling artist.

  2. It sounds to me like Amanda is the professional and the comedian is the washed-up artist.