Image Via Drums 600 | Wikimedia Commons
For a while now, there has been an uneasy, seemingly hostile relationship between journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the newspaper’s higher-ups.
Post-Gazette employees, represented by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh/CWA 38061, took a stand recently against what they described as “a tense, toxic environment, bereft of joy and respect” by voting “no confidence” in Executive Editor Keith Burris, Publisher John Robinson Block and owner Block Communications Inc. Additionally, employees will not put bylines on their stories, photographs or other graphics starting Wednesday. We at The Pitt News support the journalists of the Post-Gazette who are participating in the byline strike, as they are standing up against those who pose a threat to their ability to practice journalism.
Guild members overwhelmingly supported the no-confidence vote and the byline strike due to the hostile work environment that they have had to endure.
“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 PG newsroom,” Michael A. Fuoco, a reporter for the Post-Gazette and Guild president, said. “They have created a culture of fear, hostility and intimidation in the newsroom … We must take a stand against this orchestrated attack on the very soul of the newspaper we love. We find it hypocritical of Burris to opine in his columns about the need for civility when his treatment of employees is so outrageously uncivil.”
Burris was hired as executive editor earlier this year and has since taken a slew of actions that Guild members described as “outrageously uncivil.” He fired or forced out three newsroom managers who had almost a century of experience with the Post-Gazette between them. Four other managers also left this year, with one departure pending, and 16 journalists that were a part of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize-winning staff have left in the past six months. Burris has also apparently refused to cooperate with Guild leadership and has caused “an unprecedented number” of grievances and unfair labor practice charges.
This is significant because the hostile environment that Burris has allegedly created has, according to Fuoco, affected the way that the newsroom functions, transforming it into one that is not as conducive to the journalistic practices the Post-Gazette’s readership expects of it. We support Guild members in their byline strike, which is a form of protest that has worked for journalists at the Post-Gazette before. Employees withheld their bylines for four days in January 2018 after the public was made aware of a disagreement between the Guild and management over a contract.
The people who are speaking out against the current culture of the Post-Gazette’s newsroom aren’t just entry-level reporters or other new staff expressing dissatisfaction. They are long term employees of the paper with valuable experience and familiarity with the City. They have had a huge influence on how news is covered in Pittsburgh, and both the reading public and the paper’s management should take their departures seriously.