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.