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McCULLOUGH: Rockin' in the free world

If there’s one thing journalists like more than the First Amendment, it’s complaining.

Let’s face it: That’s probably a good thing. If journalists weren’t complainers we probably wouldn’t be as prone to pointing out all the things that seem to be wrong with the world.

And when not complaining about corrupt politicians and evil corporations, journalists gripe about their favorite subject: their lives.

We complain about our salaries. We complain about the hours. We moan about equipment that doesn’t work, company policies, assignments, sources that won’t talk (or won’t shut up), the phone ringing too much, the competition, that little alarm bell on the press that sometimes rings for what seems like 37 hours in a row — the list goes on forever.

See, in the journalist’s way of thinking, life is often nearly intolerable. To make our perceived hell on Earth bearable, we seek out little kernels of pleasure wherever we find them. Which brings us to the one thing journalists treasure above all else. More than a scoop. More than free speech. More even than complaining. It’s the universal kryptonite that takes away even the grumpiest journalist’s powers.

Free food.

If you want to see the only force in nature that can pick a carcass clean quicker than a pack of hyenas or angry piranha, just drop a box of anything edible on the “free table” in the newsroom. In seconds it will disappear like Harry Houdini.

Free food does for journalists what it does for most folks: Makes us feel better for a little while. And if it’s bad food, well, that just gives us another reason to complain.

For that reason journalists become connoisseurs of free food. Sports reporters in particular like to discuss the merits of hospitality rooms at sporting venues, from what high school press box offers the best snacks, to how good the cookies are at the Georgia Dome.

Speaking of the Dome, I actually got chastised the first time I went to the press box there. I was with Todd Cline, who was sports editor at the time, and I was on one of about 800 diets I’ve been on in my life. At halftime I came back to my seat with a salad.

Todd looked over and said something like, “You’re going to ruin sports writers’ reputations.”

“Why?”

“No one ever gets the salad.”

I dutifully went back and got something else, including some cookies.

So knowing what you now know, you can imagine my delight when I was invited to a media event this week at a fancy Italian restaurant in Atlanta, an event that also included a private performance by a famous rock band.

Sure, I could still gripe a lot if I wanted. I got home from work Tuesday night after midnight. I was back at work at 9 a.m. Wednesday. I have to work Saturday. I haven’t had a raise in, well, I don’t really remember.

On the other hand, I got free spaghetti and three songs from Foreigner and I’ve been happy most of the week.

See how easy that is?

Despite all the complaining, I think most journalists like their jobs. You get to do some cool stuff and meet some interesting people, and not just the famous ones. The most interesting folks are usually the ones no one has ever heard of until you tell their story.

So we’ll never get rich, but it’s still a cool job just the same. Plus, there’s all the free food. And, occasionally, rock ’n’ roll.

Now if I could just get “Feels Like the First Time” out of my head.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.