Dozens of Post-Gazette journalists allegedly 'conflicted out' of covering protests; union reaffirms its support of Alexis Johnson and Michael Santiago | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Dozens of Post-Gazette journalists allegedly 'conflicted out' of covering protests; union reaffirms its support of Alexis Johnson and Michael Santiago

click to enlarge Dozens of Post-Gazette journalists allegedly 'conflicted out' of covering protests; union reaffirms its support of Alexis Johnson and Michael Santiago
CP photo: Julia Maruca

Today, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette energy reporter Anya Litvak announced on Twitter that Post-Gazette management told her that 110 journalists at the newspaper have been "conflicted out" of covering protests in relation to George Floyd. Union representation for P-G staffers says they cannot confirm this figure.

She wrote that everyone who followed the instructions of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, the union representing 140 P-G staffers, to repost P-G journalist Alexis Johnson's original viral tweet in solidarity is now "banned from covering the biggest civil rights story of our generation." However, according to Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh president and Mike Fuoco, the guild is reporting the number of staffers that reshared Johnson's tweet is actually 82 people, not 110.

On June 5, many P-G staffers reposted a joking tweet Johnson sent out on May 31 about the notorious messes typically left by fans outside of Kenny Chesney concerts, and compared it to property damage done in relation to some George Floyd protests. Staffers used the hashtag #IStandWithAlexis. Johnson says she was removed from protest coverage because of the viral tweet.

P-G managing editor Karen Kane did not immediately return a request for comment. Pittsburgh City Paper will add a statement if/when P-G management provides one. Fuoco also says that "nobody in management has told us anything like that," and he cannot confirm Litvak's assertions. 

This news comes on the heels of a press conference this morning, where
the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh reaffirmed its defense of the two Black Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staffers, Alexis Johnson and Michael Santiago, who were removed from protest coverage this past week, and called upon advertisers to contact P-G management to express their support.

At a press conference on Monday morning in front of the P-G building, Newspaper Guild president Mike Fuoco announced that over 3,000 letters of complaint had been sent so far from the public to P-G's management. The letters reflect the Guild’s demands: to rescind the ban on Johnson and Santiago; to apologize to them, the staff, and readers; to stop retaliating against their supporters; and to ethically cover the ongoing protests.

“During this week of chaos, it’s clear to see that the vacuum of leadership, moral authority, and ethics proves why millions of people are in the streets protesting. Systemic racism exists,” said Fuoco. “The Post-Gazette is on the wrong side of history, and we are on the right side of history. We have a responsibility to fight for our members, and to fight for nondiscrimination, equality, and journalistic ethics. And we’re going to continue to do that until this is resolved.” 

The Guild is asking advertisers to support the union’s position and advocate a return to ethical journalism. Joseph J. Pass and Joseph S. Pass, attorneys for the Guild, elaborated.

“Until and unless this gets rectified, we are asking the community to say, 'Look, if you’re sponsoring this, if you’re advertising with this newspaper, is that really the mission that you want to put your money behind?'” said Joseph S. Pass.

“We call upon our advertisers, those who pay the bills, to bring heat on this company and tell them that if they’re not going to rectify the situation, then they don’t have to see their dollars,” Joseph J. Pass added.

click to enlarge Dozens of Post-Gazette journalists allegedly 'conflicted out' of covering protests; union reaffirms its support of Alexis Johnson and Michael Santiago (2)
CP photo: Julia Maruca

Johnson, who was taken off coverage of Black Lives Matter protests at P-G last week in response to a tweet she posted comparing response to looting with the response to garbage left behind after Kenny Chesney concerts, thanked the Guild members for supporting her on social media.

“It brought tears to my eyes, because often times Black people, and especially Black people at work on the job in corporate America, don’t feel seen or heard when speaking out about when you think you have been discriminated against, or when you think you have experienced a microaggression,” Johnson said.

Santiago, who was also removed from photographing protests after expressing support for Johnson on social media, said he continues to have Johnson’s back. It has been several days since he was taken off coverage, and he has not yet received a justification.

“When I put my cameras down and take my press badges off, I’m a Black man in America,” Santiago said. “I haven’t heard from any management or been given any reason why I have been taken off.”

Both Santiago and Johnson expressed frustration on not being able to cover the ongoing protests for racial justice.

“Sitting at home and seeing how the protests are occurring on Twitter, knowing that I should be out there, is one of the things that’s been bothering me the most,” said Santiago, who was assigned to photograph an unrelated story about ice cream instead of the protests in the past few days. “I shouldn’t be on the sidelines.”

“I’m a Black woman, and I live in Pittsburgh. Those are my friends, that was my community, those were my family members out there protesting all weekend long,” said Johnson. “Black journalists have been covering these stories since the beginning of time. We still have to experience that trauma in real time, and then show up to work and be able to report the news fairly and accurately.”

Fuoco established that the Guild seeks to improve racial issues at P-G overall.

“This is only a first step, what we are asking them to do. We feel that they need to address hiring more voices, and we want to work on this with them. This is a cooperative thing,” said Fuoco. He pointed out that the situation is playing out against a backdrop of newsrooms across the country dealing with racial issues — notedly those at the Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Times.

The Communications Workers of America released a statement on Monday morning in support of Johnson and the union, and denounced the management decisions at P-G.

“There is only one respectable thing for Post-Gazette managers to do: Apologize to Alexis, remove the ban they placed on her coverage, and let talented, dedicated, loyal P-G journalists do their life’s work to the benefit of our paper, our readers, our community, and our democracy,” said the statement, signed by NewsGuild-CWA president Jon Schleuss and CWA District 2-13 vice president Ed Mooney.

CP News Editor Ryan Deto contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This story original reported 110 reporters had been allegedly pulled off protests in the headline. The headline has been altered to more accurately representing the figures, as the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh cannot confirm Litvak's assertion.