This week’s Behind the Byline features Amanda Waltz, a senior writer at the Pittsburgh City Paper. During our virtual coffee, we discussed her journey to landing her dream job covering arts and entertainment and critiquing films. We also talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted stories she’s covering and operations at the paper. Check out the full interview below to hear more about her and ways you can help Pittsburgh’s only alternative weekly newspaper.
Where are you from?
I grew up on a dairy farm in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, home of the Little League World Series. My mom was a huge fan of old Hollywood films, so I grew up watching classic movies with her and that sparked my interest in film.
What are some of your favorite films?
Definitely “Jaws.” I also like silent movies and eastern European films.
Where did you go to school?
When I learned I could make a career out of film criticism, I decided to go to the University of Pittsburgh to study film studies, and later I enrolled in Syracuse University’s Goldring Arts Journalism program so I could write professionally about the arts.
Where was your first job?
While it was my dream to be a writer, I had to take a few side jobs to make it possible. I’ve had almost every pedestrian job you can think of – retail, food service, you name it. After moving back to Pittsburgh with my husband in 2002, I was hired at Philips as a tech specialist (thanks to my internship at the radio station in Syracuse) while freelancing as a business and tech writer at Pop City.
Tell us how you eventually landed your dream job at the Pittsburgh City Paper?
While freelancing at Pop City, my editor suggested I talk to Tracy Certo, the founder and publisher of NEXTpittsburgh. Tracy brought me on as the business and technology writer, and with that move, I was able to quit my job at Philips and become a full-time freelance writer.
A few years later, Al Hoff, who I interned for way back in the day, told me the Pittsburgh City Paper had an opening for a senior arts and entertainment reporter and encouraged me to apply. When I got the call that I was hired, I was insanely excited, and now I absolutely love doing what I do.
What do you cover or like to write about?
As the arts and entertainment reporter, my focus is on television, music, visual arts, theater and film. We’re looking for the unique stories that no one is really talking about. Tell me about an amazing local artist with an incredible background whose story hasn’t been told yet.
How has COVID-19 changed the editorial focus at the City Paper?
Coronavirus has changed everything. We had an entire spring guide ready to go and had to put that on hold, and all of our events have been cancelled. Over the last few weeks, our coverage is focused on how local arts organizations, restaurants, DJs and others in the creative sector are coping. Our stories discuss how they are supporting themselves and what our City Paper readers can do to help.
It’s weird to think that all art and entertainment is on hold right now, but we want to write about what’s happening now as the new normal and avoid the doom and gloom. I’ve been so impressed by how quickly people are thinking on their feet. It’s been awe-inspiring to see what people have come up with, and we’re proud to report on the amazing things people are doing at a time like this.
How can people help the City Paper during COVID-19?
I’m so inspired by Lisa Cunningham, our editor-in-chief, and her dedication to the paper. When we started to see a loss in revenue from advertising, our team quickly pulled together to launch a membership campaign. People can opt to donate a one-time gift or become a monthly contributor. Every penny helps our team continue doing what we love. Learn more and donate to the campaign here.
What has been one of your most memorable stories?
I was one of the first people in media to see the Alcohol House at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – a room full of reptiles and amphibians preserved in jars of alcohol for research purposes. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve seen. It was built in 1907 and has never been seen by the public, so it was a huge privilege to be one of the first not only to see it, but to inform the public about it. It reminded me of something you’d see in an Indiana Jones movie. Read more about my experience in the full article here.
Tell us a fun fact about you.
I host a podcast with my friend Sarah! Check out “Ghoul on Ghoul,” a supernatural sex-positive, horror-comedy podcast featuring first-person encounters with the paranormal. Every week, we discuss gloriously ghoulish topics like ghosts, true crime, cryptids, cursed places and other creepy, cool things.
If people want to share a story idea, where should they send it?
Because we’re an alternative weekly media publication, we operate on a much smaller budget than traditional media outlets, but we’re always open to ideas. It has to be local, unique, and we love philanthropic stories. If it’s an event, make sure to send the information at least two weeks in advance. We might not get back to you right away, but we will try. Feel free to share it with me or my editor, Lisa Cunningham.
– Robin Rectenwald, WordWrite