In a press release, the guild, which represents 140 journalists who work at the P-G, said it was compelled to act in response to management’s “escalating and unconscionable treatment of employees, union members, and managers alike.”
“Keith Burris, John Robinson Block, and his twin brother Allan, BCI chairman, have declared an unprecedented scorched-earth war on their employees and the culture of the P-G newsroom,” said guild president Michael Fuoco in a press release. “They have created a culture of fear, hostility, and intimidation in the newsroom.”
According to the press release, P-G management has fired or forced out three newsroom managers in response to those employees disagreeing with management at times. An additional four managers have left the P-G this year.
A total of 16 journalists have left the newspaper over the last six months, less than a year since the P-G was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. At the end of 2018, former longtime executive editor David Shribman stepped down to the surprise of this staff. He was later replaced by Burris.
Starting on Wednesday, guild members will be withholding their bylines as a show of solidarity with fired and punished workers.
In September, the guild was sent an email by guild chair Jon Silver warning staffers about a Hunger Games-style competition that was being applied to newsroom managers, who are not represented by the guild. According to the email, three positions were being made available for five current newsroom managers.
“The prospects appear grim for the managers whose positions have been targeted and whose applications are rejected,” wrote Silver in the email from September. “It sounds like they will either be offered a buyout — or be terminated.”
City Paper confirmed the story with a departed staffer, as well as details about the departures of two newsroom managers no longer work at the P-G (one took a buyout and another was eventually let go last week). A source told CP that the last remaining manager took a buyout and received another position out of town at another large newspaper.
Burris and Block have showcased belittling behavior towards individual guild members, according to the guild. In February, Block went on a newsroom tirade in response to a pro-union poster hung in the newsroom that said “shame on the Blocks.”
According to a first-hand account from the night of the tirade, Block yelled at his young daughter, who was crying, and demanded that she take a photo of him next to the poster. He also allegedly said he was going to fire newsroom managers Virginia Linn and Lillian Thomas, and “talked about firing other managers.” Linn is no longer with the paper.
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh has voted “No Confidence” in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Executive Editor Keith Burris, Publisher John Robinson Block and owner Block Communications Inc. #noPGwithoutME #NoConfidence pic.twitter.com/MfSCUo65vQ— Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh 🗞 (@PGNewsGuild) November 18, 2019
The guild also said today that management has been retaliating against certain guild members by reassigning them to different beats that would “adversely affect their lives or their work on behalf of the union.”
CP confirmed that a long-time cops/courts editor has been moved to the day cops beat, effectively a demotion. The current night cops reporter, who applied for the day cops job, was transferred to cover education. And a city hall reporter was transferred to the night cops beat, upending the reporter's schedule. All employees have voiced some pro-guild stances on social media in the past.
Burris didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. If and when he does, CP will update the story.
In May, a P-G staffer who wished to remain anonymous told CP that Burris held a meeting with management and some guild members and told them Block Communications was looking to cut about 70 positions from the P-G in about two years.
In the past, Block Communications has justified potentiality cuts at the P-G since the paper itself is losing money. “We have been covering the red ink,” Block said in December 2018 article in the P-G. “We can’t be expected to permanently cover the losses.” Block said last year the paper lost $22 million.
However, the guild says the entire Block Communication networks is profitable. The company, which includes cable systems, TV stations, and other media holdings, reported $564 million in revenue in 2018 and make “tens upon tens of millions of dollars in profits annually.”
Last month, MaxxSouth Broadband, a subsidiary of Block Communications, gave Mississippi State University $440,000 to contribute to a new school media center.
Most of the editors who led the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's coverage of the Tree of Life tragedy have been pushed out. In 6 months, 16 talented journalists have gone. I've given 14 years to this paper, and I despair.— Rich Lord (@richelord) November 19, 2019
Block Communications leaders Burris, Block, and others have made several controversial decisions over the last two years. Burris penned an editorial that two large Pittsburgh foundations denounced as "a sorry pastiche of whitewashing drivel," not to mention a transphobic editorial that drew the ire of the LGBTQ community. Block Communications fired cartoonist Rob Rogers for allegedly being too critical President Donald Trump. Rogers was replaced by Steve Kelley, who made controversy for drawing sexist cartoons. And in April, a Block Communication board member shared doctored anti-Muslim images, following the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
“The reign of terror continues but we stand united in staunch opposition to this unprecedented mistreatment,” said Fuoco in a press release. “We will not quit the fight until these horrific actions end. We will fight for our right to work in an environment free from hostility.”