“I have watched with disgust as top managers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette continue to fight their journalists and the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh,” wrote NewsGuild-CWA president Jon Schleuss in a statement. “Executive Editor Keith Burris and Managing Editor Karen Kane have shown outrageous insensitivity in directing coverage of protests of racism and police brutality, dismissed criticism from within their own newsroom and dehumanized their staff. They must resign immediately.”
NewsGuild-CWA is an international union that represents more than 26,000 journalists. It is one of the largest journalist unions in the world, and is the parent organization of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents about 140 P-G staffers. Last year, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh took the step of issuing a vote of no confidence against Burris, publisher John Block, and the paper’s owner Block Communications for their culture of sowing chaos in the newsroom.
BREAKING: Guild calls for resignation of Pitts. Post-Gazette managers who “have shown outrageous insensitivity in directing coverage of protests of racism & police brutality, dismissed criticism from within their own newsroom and dehumanized their staff.” https://t.co/kWQgTD6oAa pic.twitter.com/0Y3BrHpVUO— NewsGuild-CWA (@newsguild) June 12, 2020
Last week, Johnson was barred from covering protests by management. She says it was because of a viral tweet she sent that jokingly compared the mess left at Kenny Chesney concerts to any property damage done by looters. After that, more than 80 P-G staffed posted the same tweet in solidarity with the hashtag #IStandWithAlexis.
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh demanded that Johnson and Santiago be reinstated to protest coverage, but throughout all of this, P-G management has doubled-down on defending their decision. On June 10, Burris went so far as to pen an open letter claiming how important it is for journalists not to exhibit bias, and defended management’s decision. (As a response, several former P-G staffers alleged that Burris had his own conservative bias and that he used it to shape coverage at the paper.)
Schleuss called Burris’ open letter “insulting” and condemned Burris’ decision to bar all journalists that showed solidarity for Johnson from protest coverage. “Burris absurdly claims Johnson’s tweet created the ‘suggestion of bias,’” wrote Schleuss. “But his words and actions show his own prejudice against anyone daring to point out systemic racism and oppression prevalent in many news organizations.”
The Newsguild-CWA statement also details the fallout since the recent P-G controversy. Yesterday, grocery chain Giant Eagle announced it would no longer be selling copies of the Post-Gazette “until the publication demonstrates an equal commitment to all those in the communities it serves.” Groups like the Allegheny Conference, a pro-business consortium, and the Pittsburgh Foundation have pulled advertisements and/or vowed to cut advertising with the Post-Gazette in response to the barring of journalists from protest coverage.
Burris was also invited to participate in the Pittsburgh Black Media Foundation's "Freedom of the Press?" event on Thu., June 11, but declined. In a letter to PBMF president Brian Cook, Burris cites the ongoing dispute with the newsroom union and writes, "We do not think the best results come from discussing labor matters in public."
The #Pittsburgh Foundation and The @cfwestmoreland join companies and nonprofits across the region in pulling advertising commitments and upcoming promotional relationships with the @PittsburghPG. Our actions respond to the newspaper’s decision to pull Black journalists 1/3— The Pittsburgh Foundation (@PittsburghFdn) June 10, 2020
Burris goes on in the letter to concede that P-G management had "missteps" in "communication," but stands by their decisions.
"Based on some employees' social media posts, there have been attempts to make this about much more than our original conversation with an employee," writes Burris. "Unfortunately, the newsroom union has misrepresented the facts in the matter by pushing its broader labor agenda in what has become ongoing propaganda against the Company."
NOW: @PittsburghPG responds to @pghblackmedia President Brian Cook (@BCook1906) regarding tonight's "Freedom of the Press?" event. #PostGazette editor #KeithBurris was invited to participate in tonight's discussion and declined due to a prior obligation: https://t.co/Sqeks4o21Z pic.twitter.com/FfpHV8jfOR— Pgh. Black Media Fed (@pghblackmedia) June 12, 2020
Regardless, Schleuss believes Burris and Kane have to go.
“Burris and Kane have made it clear that they don’t stand for journalistic values,” wrote Schleuss. “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 Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh is also joining the effort in calling for Burris and Kane to resign. Guild president and P-G reporter Mike Fuoco says in a statement: "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.”
Today, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh is joining the @newsguild and NewsGuild-CWA president Jon Schleuss (@gaufre) in calling for the resignation of Post-Gazette Executive Editor Keith Burris and Managing Editor Karen Kane. https://t.co/tcEmDFYmlz pic.twitter.com/EK5rzK9gnm— Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh 🗞 (@PGNewsGuild) June 12, 2020