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