When the idea of doing a cover story to celebrate Pittsburgh City Paper’s 25th birthday came up, I was pretty reluctant.
In fact, even as I write this, I’m not sure it’s something that we should be doing. The whole goal of a newspaper/multimedia outlet is to cover the stories that happen, not become the story. So this whole process, and deciding what to put on the following pages, has been difficult.
But then Tuesday happened: Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, and the reaction from the public was swift. Protests broke out all over the country and here, as well. I jokingly thought to myself, “Well, our agenda is set for the next four years.” But I quickly realized it wasn’t a joke.
Pittsburgh City Paper has been an independent voice in this city for a long time. Sometimes people love us for it and sometimes ... well, let’s just say, sometimes they don’t. In the past 12 months — and the past 25 years, for that matter — we’ve been called commies, fascists, socialists, relevant, irrelevant, independent and sellouts, among other things. I’ve been thanked for the paper’s work and I’ve been told to “fuck my fucking self,” which I assume is the opposite of “thank you.”
This list was originally going to be 25 of our greatest hits from the past 25 years. But last week changed my plan. There will be some of that in here, for sure. But since this country is moving forward into uncharted waters, I don’t see what good looking back will do unless it has some connection to what we’re going to do in the future. I’ve been connected to CP since 2005, longer than most, but not as long as others. It’s the longest I’ve stayed at any one job in this business, and it’s nearly half of this paper’s lifetime. And as I sit here now, I can tell you that neither I, nor this paper, are going anywhere, especially now. “Fighting the good fight” is a cliché that I’d probably remove from most of our writers’ stories, but it seems appropriate here. Here are 25 ways we’ve tried to fight the good fight and keep you informed.1
The Right to Protest
Given the post-election climate, this one seems more relevant now. Protests have already broken out nationwide and in Pittsburgh in response to a Donald Trump presidency that scares many people. We’ve been covering these and are prepared to report on them in the coming weeks. Giving a voice to those who protest has been a big part of our identity over the years. During the G20 Summit here in Pittsburgh, City Paper had almost its entire staff covering the Sept. 24, 2009, protest that activists have long since dubbed the Battle of Lawrenceville. During the height of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Pittsburgh’s antiwar protesters were constantly active — and active enough to be put under surveillance by federal officials. More recently, we brought you coverage of the Occupy Pittsburgh movement, and along with the now-shuttered Philadelphia City Paper, were the only outlets to report on the close relationship between state police and the fracking industry.
Standing Up to Bigotry and Racism
One of the biggest issues in the Trump campaign was the way he spoke about people of other races and religions, and his proposals for treating them differently. From support for stop-and-frisk racial profiling by police to the planned surveillance of Muslim mosques, there is real concern that strides toward equality, no matter how slight, are in danger of backsliding. Racism, open or veiled, is nothing new to this region. In 2008, for example, CP reported on racial tensions growing in the Allegheny River town of Verona. We also furthered the discussion about whether dress codes at local bars and clubs were just another tool for racial profiling. We told the story of a disabled Iraq War vet who was stopped by police for “driving while black,” and a Muslim grocery-store employee who was denied management training because of her religion.
As we enter an era with a president who will continue to parrot the clueless retort “All Lives Matter” to the very real problem of police brutality and the improper use of deadly force, covering these issues is more important than ever. For years, we covered the case of Jordan Miles, a black teen beaten by three police officers; his two civil trials; and the fact that the officers in question made a fortune for being on suspension. We have written about victims of police violence like Leon Ford, Deron Grimmett, Jerry Jackson and Jonny Gammage. We have covered the outrage of our community during the multitude of shooting deaths across the country in the past several years, and it’s a job we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
Holding officers more accountable for their actions has long been a focus of this publication, as has illustrating what can happen when officers are not. In 1997, CP reporter Rich Lord wrote a piece called “McCopsport,” about the McKeesport Police Department using its power for political gain. We’ve also written about the over-use of militarized police techniques and the use of special “99 cars,” which at the time were largely unsupervised three-person teams given wide latitude in their policing techniques.
It’s even more important to keep reporting on the triumphs and the struggles of the LGBT community. Before marriage was legal nationwide, our own reporter Lauren Daley documented her efforts to get legally married in New York, only to have the union unrecognized in Pennsylvania. And when Pittsburgh Pride became fractured two years ago, we talked to the groups who felt left out of the main Pride celebration. The community faces many issues and probably deserves to have more coverage than it gets, but I pledge to keep trying.
Pittsburgh is growing and, in many ways, improving. More people want to live here now than in past decades. Thus, developers want to give them newer, higher-priced places to live, and bigger and more expensive stores and restaurants. But that hasn’t come without a price, especially in the city’s eastern neighborhoods. In the past two years, we have focused on covering affordable-housing issues, from the evictions in East Liberty’s Penn Plaza Apartments to the migration of African-American residents from the city to communities like Wilkinsburg and Penn Hills. But this isn’t a new problem: City Paper has been covering development and housing issues for more than two decades — from Downtown’s ill-fated Fifth-Forbes project to the loss of small artists’ communities that had sprung up in housing developments across Squirrel Hill.
7Women’s Reproductive Health
While Trump has said he will appoint Supreme Court nominees who would work to overturn Roe v. Wade, CP has long covered issues regarding control over a woman’s body, such as attempted legislation to force a woman who wants an abortion to have an ultrasound. We also covered the enactment of legislation that forced the closure of several clinics across the state, and a city ordinance that designated a buffer zone to separate women going into a clinic from protesters.
Violence Against Women
Donald Trump is a misogynist, and his behavior and comments about forcing himself on women is a major issue, but these kinds of behaviors aren’t new. There seemed to be a time in the late 2000s when the Pittsburgh Police Department promoted several officers despite those men having a history of domestic violence. We have also examined the issue of sexual assault against women in the military, and looked at laws seeking to criminalize revenge porn.
With all the talk about rigged elections, it’s hard to imagine what sort of laws could be coming down the pike that will attempt to keep voters from the polls. We covered voter-suppression efforts, like voter-ID laws in Pennsylvania. We’re also the state that had Mike Turzai, the speaker of the state house, brag that such laws were going to guarantee Mitt Romney’s election victory in 2012.
City Paper has long covered the efforts by workers to better their working condition through unionization or protest. From unionization efforts at large employers like UPMC and Rivers Casino to the “Fight for $15,” these movements have been a part of our coverage from our earliest days, when we reported on the strike at the Pittsburgh Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Better Access to Public Records
More Pittsburgh government data is online than ever before, but there are still gaps in what the public has a right to see and what officials say we have a right to access. We have covered the lack of daylight on records concerning police-discipline matters, and we’ve written about the fundamental unfairness that some people enjoy the luxury of having their normally public records sealed. We’re also in the middle of a now year-long request to get recovered-firearm data from the Pittsburgh Police.
Since common-sense gun control at the federal level isn’t happening anytime soon, change will have to come at the local level. We’ve covered the city’s attempt to enact legislation requiring the reporting of all lost or stolen firearms; the expected refusal of the previous mayoral administration to enforce it; and the confounding refusal of the current mayor’s administration to enforce it.
More Accessible Public Transportation
At the height of its financial problems, the Port Authority of Allegheny County eliminated several routes, and some of those communities became cut off from vital public transportation. CP has made covering of public-transit issues an important part of the publication.
The right of free speech is something that we’ve always wholeheartedly supported. Like the time when the Pittsburgh Police raided a video store to find the person who sent a hoax email, reportedly from the police union, apologizing for the Jordan Miles incident. Or the time when the city tried to bill the nonprofit Thomas Merton Center $20,000 for its G-20 rally.
Covering matters facing students has always been a priority for Pittsburgh City Paper writers. We’ve been there for searches for new public-school superintendents, parental concerns over student treatment, and holding the district accountable for failed educational experiments like UPREP High School and Clayton Academy. In 2002, a CP investigation uncovered the resegregation of Pittsburgh middle schools. We’ve also gone beyond high schools and delved into the seedy world of for-profit education a full year before the industry faced plummeting stock prices and legal scrutiny.
Before Donald Trump started yelling about walls and deportation, CP was covering attempts by state legislators to enact discriminatory laws against undocumented immigrants, most of them sponsored by Butler County Republican Daryl Metcalfe. We also highlighted the stories of immigrants fighting to stay in this country, like Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, of Mexico, and those trying get their families back in, like former Pitt student Tawfiq Ali, of Saudi Arabia. But we’ve also shown you the culture, depth and diversity immigrants have brought to our community.
Giving a Voice to Those Without One
In 2002, staffer Rich Lord wrote one of the first in-depth pieces in the country about predatory lending. In 2007, we featured a blind, street-corner blues singer who made his own way in life. Also in 2007, we spent time on the streets with members of the city’s homeless population as they were beginning to feel the effects of a new city law that restricted panhandling.
With the Affordable Care Act facing an uncertain future, continued coverage of our ever-changing health-care system will continue. Sure, we’ve tried to make sense of the deal between Highmark and UPMC, but we’ve also been on the ground floor of other issues, like medical marijuana. And not just the legislative battle for legalization, but highlighting the families and sick children who were being put in jeopardy by continued delays. We’ve also reported on the dangers of head injuries in sports, on needle exchanges, and on the difficulty trans individuals have in finding the right doctor.
Among the things a Trump presidency threatens most is the environment. Not only is City Paper’s Bill O’Driscoll a knowledgeable arts editor, but he has been the paper’s go-to writer for environmental reporting, featured in his monthly Green Light column. Beyond that, we have covered a plethora of environmental issues, from the dangers of fracking and mountaintop-mining removal to lead in our water and pollutants in our air.
A Recommitment to Long-Form Journalism
Our position as an alt weekly has given us the latitude over the years to dive into a story and tell it right. Earlier this year, we committed to bringing back these long-form stories so we can give you all angles on an issue without restrictions. Without that freedom, we never would have been able to tell you the complete story on topics like expanded gambling, Taser usage, the risks to rare synchronous fireflies in Allegheny National Forest, or hundreds of other topics over the years.
21News Doesn’t Always Happen in the News Section
On the city’s dining scene, we have covered the proliferation of food trucks and attempts to get restrictive operating laws about them lessened. We’ve told you about funding problems on the local art scene, from troubles at Pittsburgh Filmmakers to a strike at thePittsburgh Symphony.
A Continued Commitment to Covering Local Arts and Music
It’s true that Donald Trump has not promised to close down local theaters or outlaw Wiz Khalifa. However, Pittsburgh artists have done great things and made grand political statements using art. People like Vanessa German, Jasiri X and Anti-Flag are about more than music and art. They’re politically active and relevant, and we look forward to continuing to cover their work.
Offer Diverse Voices
We’ve always prided ourselves in hearing from a wealth of sources providing insight on a variety of topics. During a spate of police shootings nationwide, we asked activist Jasiri X to pen an op-ed, and he encapsulated the situation more clearly and beautifully than we ever could. Our staff and freelance writers come from all walks of life and backgrounds. And we’re proud to be the outlet for one of the area’s only progressive talk-show host, Lynn Cullen, airing at 10 a.m. weekdays.
24Daily Is the New Weekly
While most people know to pick us up every Wednesday, changing times have forced us over the past several years to alter the way we work. While we still print only one issue a week, our news cycle has pretty much become a daily routine, with updates online at www.pghcitypaper.com. It allows us to keep our content fresher and our readers more informed.
Allow Our Writers, Photographers, Designers and Artists to Continue to Push the Envelope
I know we won’t always be able to please everyone. In fact, based on the number of emails I’ve received recently, sometimes I feel like we’re not pleasing anyone. But what you have received from us over the past 25 years, and will continue to get for the next 25 years, are honest stories that deserve to be told, from a collection of people who I believe are some of the best in their craft in the city. We try to push the boundaries every week, and that won’t stop just because we’re getting older.