A sendoff for Pittsburgh City Paper’s longtime arts editor Bill O’Driscoll | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A sendoff for Pittsburgh City Paper’s longtime arts editor Bill O’Driscoll

This is a sad week for us here at City Paper. After spending the past 1,100 or so moons with this organization, arts Editor Bill O’Driscoll is packing up his desk and moving on. Starting Monday, he will be the arts and culture reporter at WESA. 

I would say he’s their “new” arts and culture reporter, but Bill’s been covering this beat for so long, it would be an insult to imply otherwise. 

I found out who Bill was when I started working at City Paper’s former rival, In Pittsburgh back at the turn of the century. I was writing a story about the surge in local MMA fighters (it was still illegal in Pennsylvania). I was told that about 18 months before I did my story Bill had done one entitled, “I Know Why the Caged Man Swings.” “Screw that,” I thought: Mine, entitled the “Fine Art of Ass-Kicking” was way better. 

Today, I can finally admit, it wasn’t. The fact is, Bill is one of the best writers in this city, bar none. Not that I’m going out on a limb. Ask just about anyone who’s read his work, and they’ll confirm that. I admire Bill for his longevity here, not simply because of the length of time but because of a work ethic that has never waned. He gives the same effort today as he always has. 

Here we are, four days away from his departure and he’s helping us out by planning out his section for the next few weeks. But, I’m not surprised. It’s the kind of person he is, the kind of coworker he is and the kind of leader he is. He’s taught me a lot in the past 13 years and he will be missed.

But enough of all that sappy crap. This column was to thank Bill for his contributions to this paper. And to do that, I thought I’d share my favorite stories written by Bill over the years.

“Bill Dorsey’s Blues” (Feb. 1, 2007)

This 7,000-word story focused on Bill Dorsey, a former blues singer of whom the great John Lee Hooker once said, “That blind boy’s up there singing his ass off. He’s something else.” When Bill spent time with him, he was living a modest life in the Hill District and using his beautiful voice to make a living singing on street corners. Bill wrote: “Dorsey professes to shun show business. He says his brief experiences with managers have gone poorly. He also treasures his independence; as a street singer, he can choose his own material — these days, he mostly sings gospel — and avoid conflicts with, say, irresponsible bandmates.” 

“There Will Be Crud” (April 23, 2009)

Long before people really started talking about the dangers of fracking, Bill went to Washington County to tell the story of landowner Ron Gulla. He had signed an agreement to let Range Resources extract gas from underneath his 141 acres. What he got, he said, was contaminated well water, sediment in his fish pond that killed the inhabitants, and a piece of land that used to be beautiful. Lamented Gulla, “Once you lease, you’ve just signed your life away.”

“Building a Movement” (June 12, 2008)

When I think about Bill, I think about arts, culture and the environment. One thing I never thought of was parkour. Long before shows like American Ninja Warrior brought the sport into the spotlight, Bill was running around with a bunch of these young athletes, who themselves were running around, climbing up walls and all kinds of silly stuff. He traveled to Columbus to see athletes from all over the country, including Pittsburgh, take part in the small, but rapidly growing, sport. Said one: “It’s not a game. It’s something you want to do for life.”

My last selection isn’t a very long story. In fact, in some respects, it was kind of a throwaway. Often, we do stories offering new ideas to make the city better. Usually they’re things that have worked elsewhere, and the city’s decision-makers roundly dismiss them. But on Jan. 6, 2011, Bill wrote a story that began with a simple question: “If sharing works for cars, why not bikes?” It was apparently a great question because two years later, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl decided to bring the program to Pittsburgh. Lucky for us all, someone must have read him Bill’s story.