Press Releases from the Newspaper Guild
Petition: Support for Post-Gazette Black Journalists
June 7, 2020
External Statements and Releases
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette removes a Black reporter from George Floyd protest coverage, says union
Pittsburgh City Paper | June 4, 2020
Post-Gazette Pulls Black Reporter From Protest Coverage Over ‘Objectivity’ Concerns
90.5 WESA | June 4, 2020
Black Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Reporter Removed From BLM Coverage
The Daily Beast | June 4, 2020
Shouts of solidarity for black reporter pulled from protests
AP | June 5, 2020
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette removes protest and police brutality stories from website following protests from union members
Pittsburgh City Paper | June 6, 2020
Pittsburgh paper accused of barring black reporters from covering protests, censoring stories
Washington Post | June 6, 2020
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Removes Second Black Journalist from Protest Coverage in Two Days
Pittsburgh Current | June 6, 2020
Post-Gazette reporters denounce black colleague’s removal from protest coverage
Philadelphia Inquirer | June 6, 2020
Interview: Alexis Johnson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter barred from protest coverage, shares gratitude for overwhelming support from allies
Pittsburgh City Paper | June 7, 2020
Floyd protest coverage barred for Pittsburgh journalists of color
AMJoy – MSNBC | June 7, 2020
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Faces Blowback After Barring Black Reporters From Protest Coverage
The Wrap | June 7, 2020
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Bars Black Reporters From Covering Protests, Citing ‘Bias’
The Root | June 7, 2020
Journalists Clash With Newsroom Chiefs Over Protest Coverage
NPR Morning Edition | June 8, 2020
Union demands Pittsburgh Post-Gazette rescind ban on some journalists covering protests
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | June 8, 2020
Staffers Ask Advertisers To Pressure Post-Gazette After Journalists Removed From Protest Coverage
90.5 WESA | June 8, 2020
What It Means to Be a Black Journalist in Pittsburgh Right Now
CityLab | June 8, 2020
What Black Pittsburgh Needs to Know About Media
1Hood Media | June 9, 2020
Newsrooms Must Do More For Black Journalists, Says PG’s Alexis Johnson
90.5 WESA | June 9, 2020
Editorial | Racism as reason: Black journalists aren’t biased
The Pitt News | June 10, 2020
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Staff Revolts Over Sidelining of 2 Black Colleagues
New York Times | June 10, 2020
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editor’s photo with Trump proves own journalistic bias he claims to condemn
Pittsburgh City Paper | June 10, 2020
Alexis Johnson Isn’t Covering Pittsburgh’s Protests Right Now. The Reason Is Maddening.
Esquire | June 10, 2020
The Voices Behind the Clash at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CityLab | June 11, 2020
International News Guild President calls for Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editors to resign for sidelining black journalists
Pittsburgh Current | June 12, 2020
Photojournalist banned from covering Black Lives Matter Protests Leaves the Pittsburgh-Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Current | June 14, 2020
PBMF panel discusses freedom of the press and racism in the newsroom
Pittsburgh Current | June 15, 2020
‘Am I Biased Because I’m Black?’
New York Magazine | June 15, 2020
Federal Lawsuit Alleges Post-Gazette Violated Civil Rights Laws In Treatment Of Black Reporter
90.5 WESA | June 15, 2020
2 Sidelined Pittsburgh Journalists React: One Quits; the Other Sues
New York Times | June 15, 2020
The standoff between owners and journalists that’s eviscerating Pittsburgh’s biggest newspaper
Washington Post | June 16, 2020
This is what happens when you’re threatened by diversity
Pittsburgh City Paper | June 17, 2020
Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Michael Santiago on why he is leaving the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh City Paper | June 17, 2020
An Open Letter to Alexis Johnson
Pittsburgh City Paper | June 17, 2020
A demand that Pittsburgh Post-Gazette management reverse their recent actions:
Rescind your ban and allow these black journalists to cover the most monumental civil rights movement in more than 50 years.
Stop retaliating against their supporters.
Fulfill your mission by adequately and ethically covering the protests and related issues.
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh is calling upon the public to email its outrage at the repulsive treatment of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette journalists — creating a hostile work environment and not providing a raise in 14 years — to those responsible for the unconscionable actions:
- Publisher John Block (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- BCI Chairman Allan Block (email@example.com and
- Executive Editor Keith Burris (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com)
“We will continue to serve our community, even as the Blocks and Burris attempt to stand in the way of our commitment to our calling as journalists,” Guild President Michael A. Fuoco said. “We hope and pray that the Blocks and Burris come to their senses before they permanently destroy an iconic newspaper whose roots go back to reporting on passage of the US. Constitution.”
How is the contract situation at the PG?
Not good. The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh’s contract expired March 31, 2017. Since then, we’ve been negotiating with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and its highly profitable Toledo-based parent company, BCI. As of January 2020, we’re in the 35th month of negotiations.
That sounds like a long time.
It is! BCI and its owner, Post-Gazette Publisher John Robinson Block and his twin brother, BCI Chairman Allan Block, have sicced on the Guild the pricey, union-busting Nashville, Tenn. law firm King & Ballow. Their representative at the bargaining table is firm partner Richard Lowe.
What does the Guild want?
A fair and equitable contract. The dedicated journalists who put out the news around the clock every single day for the greater Pittsburgh community have not had a raise in 14 years. Meanwhile our members have given back millions of dollars in concessions — part of the tens of millions of dollars the Blocks have received from all of the PG’S unions — as part of years-long pay cuts to help keep the Post-Gazette afloat.
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh today joined in the call by NewsGuild International President Jon Schleuss that Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Executive Editor Keith Burris and Managing Editor Karen Kane resign immediately for the sake of the paper, its staff and readers.
Given their egregious actions over the past 12 days, both are unquestionably unfit to lead. Both must immediately depart if the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has any hope of restoring its credibility with the public and the trust of the newsroom. Burris, Kane and their benefactor Post-Gazette Publisher John Robinson Block have severely undermined the paper’s integrity with this debacle. They have shrugged off any and all criticism for their actions, mistreated their staff and failed at the most basic task of carrying out ethical journalism. The Post-Gazette needs to confront the existence of systemic racism in its newsroom and it cannot believably do that with Burris and Kane in their current posts.
The local union’s demand was unanimously approved this morning by its Executive Committee, thereby joining its parent union’s demand that the two top editors leave immediately. The 11-member local Executive Committee is elected by the membership. The Executive Committee hopes Post-Gazette readers, subscribers, advertisers, and journalism professionals, academicians and ethicists to join in their call.
“The reprehensible actions of Keith Burris and Karen Kane have so tarnished the 233-year reputation of our beloved newspaper that we fear for its very survival,” said Michael A. Fuoco, a 36-year reporter at the paper and local Guild president.
“We are truly at a precipice. We want the Post-Gazette to survive. These two top editors have shown they are incapable of quality leadership. For healing and redemption, they must leave now.”
Jonathan D. Silver, chairman of the 140-member unit that represents newsroom employees, agreed: “We desperately need healing in our newsroom now, and Burris and Kane are not the leaders who can make that happen. We need a clean break from this disaster that they’ve created, and the only way to start fresh is for them to step down.”
On June 1, Kane and other editors declared Black reporter Alexis Johnson biased for a humorous, innocuous and wry tweet showing the destructive aftermath of a Kenny Chesney concert and banned her from protest-related coverage in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. On June 5, without explanation, they pulled Black photographer Michael Santiago from protest coverage after he tweeted Johnson’s post as a show of support for her. That same day, management removed from the paper’s website stories written by reporters Lauren Lee and Ashley Murray after they also supported Johnson with tweets. Nearly 100 of their co-workers have also been reportedly banned from protest-related coverage for reposting Johnson’s original tweet although none of them have been personally told that.
Since June 3, the Guild has attempted to resolve the issue amicably, immediately asking management for Johnson’s reinstatement. Kane refused to explain what in Johnson’s tweet showed bias and flatly rejected the Guild’s attempt at resolution, snapping “Go file your grievance.” Things have only deteriorated since then as the Company has made matters exponentially worse, creating a climate of fear and intimidation while abandoning core principles of fair, complete and ethical coverage of the protests.
Before today’s additional demand that Burris and Kane leave, the Guild presented an easy path to resolving the crisis and chaos:
Publicly apologize to Johnson, Santiago, the staff and readers.
Rescind the ban and allow Johnson and Santiago to cover the largest civil rights movement in more than 50 years.
Stop retaliation against their supporters.
Fulfill the newspaper’s mission by adequately and ethically covering the protests and related issues.
Going forward, foster substantive discussions between the Guild and management to eliminate systemic discrimination of Black employees at the Post-Gazette.
The crisis over racial insensitivity at the Post-Gazette is occurring even as two other large newspapers quickly moved to resolve similar controversies over coverage of protests. Over the weekend, the opinion editor at the New York Times and the executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer resigned in the wake of outrage by staffers and readers over their actions at a time the country is reckoning with systemic racism. At the New York Times, the issue was publication of an inflammatory op-ed piece by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, in which he called for using the military to quell violent protests. At the Inquirer,.the controversy was over a headline “Buildings Matter, Too” on a column by an architecture critic in response to the destruction of property that had resulted in some areas of Philadelphia.
“Those two newspapers did the right thing and quickly admitted there had been errors in judgment that had caused pain. Conversely, at the Post-Gazette, the response has been to try to defend the indefensible, to double down on the inflicted pain,” Fuoco said.
“In doing so, they are assaulting the very soul of a Pulitzer-Prize winning newspaper. It must end. The departures of Burris and Kane are a necessary first step to show the staff, the readership, the advertisers that their voices are being heard, that there is a commitment to do better.”
Jonathan D. Silver
Newspaper Guild Unit Chairman
“Burris and Kane have made it clear that they don’t stand for journalistic values. Their mistreatment of Black employees, their lack of empathy, and their retribution when confronted with criticism make them simply unfit to lead. It’s time for both of them to go.”
The Allegheny Conference on Community Development board of directors has shared a statement on the recent Post-Gazette editorial decisions. “We respect and will continue to work with the hard-working journalists of the Post-Gazette. However, we are committed to being a region for all. That means creating a space for everyone to thrive regardless of race, including by pushing back when organizations such as the Post-Gazette fail in that shared responsibility. We have lost faith in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s ability to represent the region we aspire to be.”
The company on June 1 declared Johnson biased for a humorous, innocuous tweet showing the destructive aftermath of a Kenny Chesney concert and banned her from protest-related coverage. On Friday evening, without explanation, they pulled Black photographer Michael Santiago from protest coverage after he tweeted Johnson’s post as a show of support for her. Also Friday, management removed from the paper’s website stories written by reporters Lauren Lee and Ashley Murray after they also supported Johnson with tweets.
Despite demands from the Guild that Johnson and Santiago receive an apology and be returned to protest-related coverage, Johnson was told late Monday that Managing Editor Karen Kane was offering her an assignment to fly to Houston and cover the funeral of George Floyd—-logistically difficult given that the service would be happening in about 16 hours. This idea, seemingly in response to the national firestorm over management’s racial discrimination toward her, was not discussed with her previously. Neither Kane, Deputy Managing Editor Matt Kennedy nor Assistant Managing Editor Tim McDonough, all of whom met with Johnson when the ban was imposed, has indicated to Johnson or the Guild it had been lifted, which confused an already stressed Johnson.
Moreover, David Garth, a Black assistant managing editor in charge of the copy desk who previously had no involvement in the controversy, told Johnson that Kane had told him to deliver the message to her. Johnson told Garth she “respectfully declined” the assignment, saying that she had not been told by Kane, Kennedy or McDonough that the ban had been lifted and “there are other issues.”
Those “issues” included a meeting between Guild leaders, Johnson and three representatives of Human Resources earlier in the day which Kane either didn’t know about or completely ignored. HR contacted the Guild to discuss a grievance filed Wednesday on Johnson’s behalf that averred there was no “just cause” for her to be removed from coverage
When asked how it could be resolved, the Guild presented five demands:
- Publicly apologize to Johnson, Santiago, the staff and readers.
- Rescind the ban and allow Johnson and Santiago to cover the most monumental civil rights movement in more than 50 years.
- Stop retaliation against their supporters.
- Fulfill the newspaper’s mission by adequately and ethically covering the protests and related issues.
- Going forward, foster substantive discussions between the Guild and management to eliminate systemic discrimination of Black employees at the Post-Gazette.
HR told Guild reps and Johnson they understood and would get back to them. At 2 p.m. today — more than 24 hours after the meeting — there has been no word from the company.
Additionally management early today directed the morning news editor, a Guild member, to call Johnson and tell her she would be virtually covering Floyd’s funeral. In response, Johnson sent an email to that editor, her direct editor McDonough, the head of HR and Guild reps. Johnson wrote that she is being torn in a number of directions because she hasn’t officially heard the ban has been lifted:
“I am being placed in an impossible position with these assignments, including the one last night that required me to fly to Houston and cover the protest within roughly 16 hours time, and it is causing me a lot of stress.
“I was taken off such coverage by the managing editor and have not yet received any official word that the ban, which I am currently grieving, has been lifted.”
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh vows to continue its battle until non-discrimination and journalism ethics return to the once-proud Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“Devoid of any moral authority or credibility, management at the Post-Gazette is attempting to remove itself from the hole it dug by furiously digging even deeper,” said Michael A. Fuoco, Newspaper Guild president and a 36-year reporter at the paper.
“Their discriminatory and retaliatory actions are just as bad — if not worse — than the racially charged controversies that have exploded recently in the newsrooms of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times. In response, the Inquirer executive editor and NYT opinion editor quickly stepped down.
“In this time of racial reckoning, why does the PG continue its mistreatment of employees rather than admitting its editors’ actions were incomprehensibly misguided and racially insensitive? We decry the unconscionable assaults on Alexis, her supporters, our newspaper, our readers and journalism.”
More than 4,400 emails supporting the Guild and its demands have been sent to Post-Gazette management and Publisher John Robinson Block since a link went online late Sunday morning–an average of one per minute. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Pittsburgh Pirate Josh Bell are among prominent individuals who have publicly expressed support for the Guild’s fight during this crisis.
One week ago today, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette management banned Black reporter Alexis Johnson from protest-related coverage because they claimed she showed “bias:” in a clever and benign tweet. Subsequently, members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh put that tweet on their own Twitter accounts to show support for their colleague. The Post-Gazette responded by pulling two published stories from its website written by reporters who had shown Alexis support and two stories scheduled the next day by other reporters were killed.
Without explanation, the PG then pulled Black photographer Michael Santiago off a previously scheduled assignment to cover protests on Saturday and didn’t staff them with a photographer. On Sunday, no photographers were assigned to protests happening that day. On Monday, a photographer who does not have a Twitter account and therefore could not tweet support for his colleagues, was assigned to shoot an early morning protest.
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh finds these discriminatory, retaliatory actions to be unconscionable and morally and ethically bankrupt. Management’s actions have nationally embarrassed and demeaned a Pulitzer-Prize winning newspaper. Statements of condemnation have been issued by the local’s parent unions, the Communication Workers of America and the NewsGuild and the National Association of Black Journalists, among others. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and other prominent individuals have publicly supported the Newspaper Guild. And the public has expressed its ire at the actions — as of early today, more than 2,500 letters of complaint have been written to the Post-Gazette on an ActionNetwork app.
The letters to management support the Guild’s demands:
- Rescind your ban and allow these Black journalists to cover the most monumental civil rights movement in more than 50 years.
- Stop retaliating against their supporters.
- Fulfill your mission by adequately and ethically covering the protests and related issues.
Additionally, we call upon advertisers large and small to contact the Post-Gazette to express their support of the Guild’s position and ethical journalism.
Only in this way can management resolve a crisis of its own making and can the Post-Gazette go back to truly reporting the news rather than sadly making it.
On Sunday, Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh member Alexis Johnson posted a benign tweet deemed so controversial and biased by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette management that it barred her the next day from all protest-related coverage. The logic was absurd and specious. The move stifled one of the few black reporters at the paper.
On Wednesday, Guild President Michael A. Fuoco and Unit Chairman Jonathan D. Silver, both longtime PG reporters, met with Managing Editor Karen Kane and two other managers to demand that they reverse course and immediately reinstate Alexis to protest-related coverage. They refused and wouldn’t explain their rationale. We filed a grievance alleging they violated our contract by disciplining Alexis without just cause. That grievance, one of many filed over the past three years, is pending.
On Friday, in a show of solidarity, dozens of Guild members throughout the newsroom tweeted Alexis’ tweet on their own Twitter accounts under the hashtag #IStandWithAlexis. By Friday night, in our view, the company’s retaliation began.
Protest-related stories by two staffers — city hall reporter Ashley Murray and general assignment reporter Lauren Lee — suddenly disappeared without explanation from the PG’s website shortly after they tweeted support for Alexis. Ashley and Lauren were baffled, and queries to management were met with silence. To us, the cause and effect is clear.
The PG simply does not remove stories, ever, for any reason. It is a longstanding policy in journalism and at the PG that you do not remove published material; it is simply unethical to do so. The proper course of action is to correct any factual errors and include an editor’s note in the story explaining the reason for any changes. But in this case, we believe that Ashley’s and Lauren’s stories were purposely removed. In fact, one of our staffers heard Kane on Friday evening order the city editor to kill a story.
Similarly, one of our photographers of color who tweeted support for Alexis has been barred from covering protests. This is after risking his personal safety and being gassed by police in order to bring PG readers news about what was happening in their city.
(June 7, 2020 Addition) The PG has also instructed the entire photography staff to not cover protests happening in the region.
The PG took other troubling steps. As if it wasn’t bad enough to kill stories and restrict journalists who expressed solidarity with a union colleague under siege, management told several Guild members that protests would no longer be covered, period. And protest-related stories scheduled for Saturday were killed without explanation.
By this morning, the paper’s position had changed again. The original two stories that had been killed on the web reappeared — this time in severely shortened versions and without bylines. And a Guild member who had not joined in the Twitter backing of Alexis and was not previously scheduled had been assigned to cover the day’s protest.
A Twitter post this morning indicates that Kane responded to an inquiry from someone by claiming that “nothing has been removed.” The response also praises Alexis for being a “valued part of our great staff.” It’s fair to say Alexis does not feel that way right now.
It is abundantly clear to the Guild that PG managers are trying to gaslight us. We have no doubt that the Blocks and their top lieutenants are doing their best to crush our union, stamp out free thought and punish our members for exercising their federally protected rights.
We’ve encountered this before when publisher John Robinson Block went on an unhinged tirade on a Saturday night in February 2019 in our newsroom, manhandled his daughter and threatened to fire Guild leaders.
In trying to explain away Block’s despicable behavior, witnessed by more than a dozen Guild members, the PG/BCI crafted an explanation for the media that was filled with lie after lie. They have never admitted fault for coming after the union.
We are more than three years into contract negotiations with an intractable company that has hired a union-busting Tennessee law firm to do nothing but stall and wring every last cent from the Blocks, all while our members suffer economically.
No raise for 14 years. Significant pay cuts. Vile attacks on our health care, a situation that now is tied up in federal court. And our Guild brethren at The (Toledo) Blade likewise owned by the Blocks are suffering equally.
The PG’s latest assault on our union is possibly the worst yet because it strikes at the very heart of journalism: truth and transparency. Guild leaders are not entirely sure yet what is happening, but we are dedicated to finding out and correcting it.
What kind of news publication ousts a black reporter from covering the most important race-related story of the current generation for posting a tongue-in-cheek tweet, all without due process or explanation? The PG.
What kind of news publication installs an executive editor who wrote a repugnant, racially insensitive editorial called “Reason as Racism” that attracted universal condemnation, even from members of the very family that owns the paper? The PG.
What kind of news organization bars members of its Pulitzer Prize-winning staff from covering protests because they refused to stay silent when their colleague was muzzled? The PG.
That’s why we find ourselves in proverbial Vietnam today. And as in that war, PG managers wrongly think they need to destroy the village in order to save it. They couldn’t be more wrong.
There’s an easy way out of this quagmire: Top management must apologize to Alexis, remove the ban they placed on her coverage and let talented, dedicated, loyal PG journalists do our life’s work to the benefit of our paper, our readers, our community, our democracy.