International News Guild President calls for Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editors to resign for sidelining black journalists

By June 12, 2020 No Comments

P-G reporter, Alexis Johnson speaking to media outside the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette North Shore office. (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

By Charlie Deitch

Pittsburgh Current Editor

Update: 1:26 p.m.: The Pittsburgh Newsguild Has joined the international Newsguild In calling for the resignation of two Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editors they say is responsible for sidelining to black reporters during recent protest coverage.

According to a statement: “Given their egregious actions over the past 12 days, both are unquestionably unfit to lead. Both must immediately depart if the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has any hope of restoring its credibility with the public and the trust of the newsroom. Burris, Kane and their benefactor Post-Gazette Publisher John Robinson Block have severely undermined the paper’s integrity with this debacle. They have shrugged off any and all criticism for their actions, mistreated their staff and failed at the most basic task of carrying out ethical journalism. The Post-Gazette needs to confront the existence of systemic racism in its newsroom and it cannot believably do that with Burris and Kane in their current posts.“

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In a scathing letter, the president of the International Newsguild is calling for Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Executive Editor Keith Burris and Managing Editor Karen Kane to resign immediately for showing “outrageous insensitivity in directing coverage of protests of racism and police brutality, dismissed criticism from within their own newsroom and dehumanized their staff. “

The move follows a week of controversy after the P-G banned a black reporter and then a black photographer from protest coverage. The Pittsburgh News Guild called on the paper’s advertisers to contact the paper and tell them that their actions wouldn’t be tolerated. So far, Giant Eagle has made the decision to stop selling the paper and other advertisers/supporters are following suit.

In typical fashion for P-G management, they responded with an open letter that served to even further worsen the situation. In it, Burris wrote: “The Block family has a long and distinguished history on civil rights. And no newspaper in America, whether considered over the past 100 years or 100 days or 100 hours, has devoted more time, words or space to questions of discrimination, race prejudice, or justice than the Post-Gazette.”

The claim is ludicrous, of course. What we do know is that the Post-Gazette and Burris in particular apparently believes that “racism” is little more than a way to defame someone you disagree with or, as he wrote in the most recent letter, as a union bargaining chip.

Despite Burris’ soapbox denials, Jon Schleuss, the president of the International News Guild, says the editor’s egregious behavior is cause for his resignation. Here is the letter calling for the resignations:

June 12, 2020

Keith Burris and Karen Kane must resign immediately

I  have watched with disgust as top managers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette continue to fight their journalists and the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh. 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.

In an insulting “open letter” published in the paper Wednesday, Burris publicly commented for the first time since barring dozens of staffers from covering George Floyd protests and related issues. The sidelining started with Alexis Johnson, one of the paper’s few Black journalists, after she posted an innocuous, witty and insightful tweet satirically juxtaposing the mess left behind after a Kenny Chesney concert with criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement that focused  solely on looting and not on the root causes for massive protests. About 100 of Johnson’s colleagues who reposted the tweet in support of her were subsequently also forbidden from covering the most monumental civil rights movement in their lifetimes.

Burris absurdly claims Johnson’s tweet created the “suggestion of bias.” 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 Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh had a reasonable demand: apologize. Instead, Burris and Kane dug in, attempting to change the narrative and sow confusion even as dozens of news organizations, including the New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, Associated Press and MSNBC, revealed the truth.

Businesses and foundations have pulled advertising and western Pennsylvania’s largest supermarket chain has stopped selling the PG because the paper’s hurtful actions exposed a shocking tone-deafness to racial inequities at a time of a national reckoning with the issue.

Burris and Kane have made it clear that they don’t stand for journalistic values. 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.

Jon Schleuss, President, The NewsGuild-CWA

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