The Post-Gazette’s Brian O’Neill: Follow Your Dreams


Tayaunna Jackson

Brian O’Neill visited Pittsburgh’s Barack Obama Academy to discuss his career as a columnist of the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette. Before he was through, he gave Obama Journalism students words of wisdom about the newspaper business and about life, itself.

He described himself as a typical American dad. As a child he grew up in New York City and it was during his youth  when he realized he had a passion for writing.

O’Neill began his career as a journalist during his senior year of high school, and decided to continue with his passion for writing throughout college.  O’Neill attended one of the best Journalism schools in the country, Syracuse, and he did not write for the school newspaper until his senior year. At Syracuse, he decided to write a column and found that he needed a niche to attract readers. So, he covered parties held on campus, which drew the attention of many of his readers.

To this day, O’Neill believes that it’s complicated to find a new fresh topic to write about but it is possible.

When he realized that after college he would be finished with writing he was determined to make it a part of his future career. He then pursued the career as a reporter and columnist .He knew he wouldn’t make much money while he also had the knowledge that money wasn’t important. He was happy because he was doing what he always dreamed of.

He got his first job Virginia. While there, he looked for incompetence and corruptions because they could make great stories that people would want to hear. He informed us about a story of when he was in a flood that resulted in him hanging on for his life. Oddly enough, this story made him famous among the press, because he went so far as to almost dying to get the story. The story of his experience in the flood was picked up nationally and opened up doors in the future.

In 1988 he got a job at The Pittsburgh Press thanks to his stories and his background, but he didn’t work there for long. The Press ran their last issue in 1992 due to budget cuts.

He was soon hired as a columnist of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette which brings us to where he currently works now. He stated that the newspaper business is not exactly what it uses to be. Newspapers are now heading in the direction we (Obama Academy) are writing.  It’s a new day, and more newspapers are placing articles on line. Thanks to this fact, newspaper readership is down, and so are newspaper profits. O’Neill is well aware of this and discussed how the  staff members of the Post Gazette have taken pay cuts willingly, for two contract periods in a row.

As he continued writing articles he realized his next desire was to write a book. He stated, “Books don’t produce any much money. I couldn’t buy a house from writing a book, but I could make a porch with all the money a book makes.”

The after affect of the book was O’Neil selling more issues of his book than his publisher had imagined . To date, he has sold up between 8,000- 9,000 copies of his book called ,“The Paris of Appalachia, Pittsburgh in the 21st Century.” Look for it in bookstores everywhere. Mr.O’Neill might have been born a New Yorker, but he clearly loves Pittsburgh and calls it the best place to live.

O’Neil enjoys columnists such as George Will, David Brooks, and on occasion, Maureen Dowd. When he has free time, he attempts to avoid thought and effort so he can relax. His advice to young writers is to continue writing, and to never give it up if it’s your passion. If you want to pursue a career as a journalist, be willing to move around to look for a good job, and know that the job market is difficult right now. You can still study journalism, but have a back-up plan just in case.

“When writing, you can’t trust everything…” he emphasized as an important piece of information that should always be considered in most situations.

O’Neill advised us to never get frustrated when writing because nothing is perfect the first time.  Re-read your work so the outcome is better than what was initially produced. And know that criticism is there so you can use it as your benefit. When he writes his articles he keeps the phrase; “Kill the good stuff and leave the really good stuff in your article,” in order to grab the reader. He often relies upon humor as a way to win the audience.

After so many years, like many things journalism can become tiring to Brien. He wishes to start fresh but informed us that at the age of 55, it is a highly complex proposition.

His advice about writing for the newspaper is simple: “Nothings older than yesterday’s newspaper.”

Look for Brian O’Neill’s columns three times a week in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and pick up his book about Pittsburgh, its neighborhoods and its people, today.

Mr.O’Neill’s latest column: