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.
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.
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.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has filed a complaint to vacate the arbitrators award to the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, submitted on December 30, 2019, and filed with a full opinion on January 21, 2020.
You can view their five count filing here.
On December 30, 2019, arbitrator Jay Nadelbach delivered his ruling that the Post-Gazette violated our “collective bargaining agreement by failing to maintain the agreed-upon health care benefits”.
The ruling stated that the Post-Gazette must “pay the amount necessary to maintain the specific health insurance benefit levels” as well as make our members “whole for any out-of-pocket monies paid as a result of the Employer’s failure to maintain the contractual level of benefits”.
Today, the Newspaper Guild received the full award and opinion on the case. You can download it below.
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh Local 38061 is offering two scholarships for $2,000 each to fourth semester undergraduates – and up — majoring in journalism or related fields, with a strictly local focus.
Those who have completed at least three semesters and live in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Washington or Westmoreland Counties – or attend colleges or universities in these counties – should submit an application and supporting materials by Fri., March 6, 2020.
Applications may be sent through the mail, but email packages will also be considered. Send digital copies to scholarship chairperson Matt Moret at email@example.com.
Scholarship winners will be announced in mid-March and a reception will follow.
Since 1996, the Guild has awarded more than $50,000 in cash to undergrads preparing for careers in journalism. Funding for the Sally Kalson Scholarship awards comes from the annual production “Off the Record,” staged by the Guild, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists.
U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan has ordered top Post-Gazette and Teamsters representatives to appear Thursday, Jan. 9 at 3 p.m. in Courtroom C on the Sixth Floor of the Federal Courthouse for a status conference on the Post-Gazette’s refusal to follow his court order of Nov. 27 that he reissued for clarity Dec. 27.
Attorney Joseph J. Pass, representing the Teamsters, has petitioned Judge Ranjan to find the Post-Gazette in contempt of court for not following his orders to fully reinstate 24 Teamsters who were discharged on Nov. 10 and 47 others who were reduced to part-time so the company could avoid paying for their health care benefits.
It is expected that Judge Ranjan will rule on the Teamsters’ petition (see below), which asks him to find the Post-Gazette in contempt; to order the company again to immediately follow his court order; and to impose fines on the Post-Gazette of $10,000 for the first day of non-compliance with his order, and thereafter an amount that would double every day of non-compliance.
Pass, Teamsters Local President Joe Molinero and officials of other unions who have been involved in protracted contract negotiations for nearly three years with the Post-Gazette will be available for interviews after the status conference.
Download the motion filings for this case