By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will eliminate its entire print product in a move to become an all-digital publication, according to a letter obtained by the Current.
The letter from Linda Guest, senior HR Manager, reads:
“On June 26, 2018, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette announced its decision to become a digital news organization. (See attached letter). As part of that decision, the Post-Gazette’s print operations would be phased out. On August 25, 2018, the Company eliminated two days of print. The Union has previously been informed that additional print days will be eliminated in 2019.
“The Company has decided to eliminate two additional print days on September 30, 2019 as it continues the transition to a digital-only newspaper. As part of that transition, the Company will also eliminate the distribution of its delivery partners’ products (USAT, NYT, WSJ, etc.).
“We are prepared to discuss the effects our decisions will have on your bargaining unit. Please let me know when you are available to meet.”
The print version of the paper will now only be available Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
Joe Pass Sr., attorney for the newspaper’s several unions including the Newspaper Guild, Teamsters, pressmen and mailroom employees, told the Current that Post-Gazette management had told union members that there was an eventual plan to go to a fully digital product, but were vague on details. In fact, Pass says, he was told as recently as Monday that there was no decision on the move.
“Then on Tuesday, they send out these letters to the union presidents that they are going all digital,” Pass says. “You can’t tell me that on Monday, they didn’t know what they were going to do. They’re a bunch of liars, frankly; that’s the best way to put it.”
While the news is just becoming public, when asked what the decision will mean for the future of the P-G’s workers, Pass said: “It means a whole lot of people are going to lose their jobs.”
Pass says the Post-Gazette had already told the unions of its intention to cut two more print days in September. Pass says P-G ownership continues to be evasive on when the print product will cease, another example of failing to communicate.
“If they fulfill their purpose of going fully digital then every Teamster, pressman and mailer will lose their jobs and the number of newsroom employees will be significantly reduced,” Pass says. “I’ve been dealing with them for two years and they have never been honest in dealing with their employees. They do what they want, they refuse to answer questions, they spend millions on a union-busting firm.
“I’ve been doing this for a half-century and they are the worst ownership I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
In the past few minutes, a statement has been released from Tracey DeAngelo, P-G chief marketing officer:
“On Monday, September 30, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will take the next step in its digital transformation by eliminating print on two additional days, Mondays and Wednesdays. The Post-Gazette’s website, post-gazette.com and its e-delivery, PGe, will continue to publish seven days a week, along with its edition-based product for phones and tablets, PG NewsSlide.
“As Allan Block, chairman of Block Communications, which owns the Post-Gazette stated in June 2018, before Tuesday and Saturday print editions were eliminated, “We believe the future is digital. We are maintaining our news department and the quality of the Post-Gazette. We have no plans to cut back our commitment. We will remain flexible as to how we implement the digital future based on local competitive and market developments.”
“After September 30, subscribers will have the option of the Plus plan, which is 7-days of digital delivery along with Thursday, Friday and Sunday home delivery of the print edition or the Sunday plan, which is 7-days of digital delivery along with Sunday home delivery.”
The relationship between employees and management of the Post-Gazette has been tumultuous for some time. The union has filed and won unfair labor practices complaints against management. And earlier this year, the paper’s publisher John Robinson Block was involved in a strange meltdown in his newsroom, yelling and screaming at his employees over a newsroom sign that read, “shame on the Blocks.”
Steven Hallock, a professor of journalism at Point Park University, says he isn’t at all surprised by the P-G’s decision to phase out its print publication, surmising that it is a “purely financial move,” and not one based on the needs of its readers.
“I’m really disappointed because thousands of readers depend on that paper every day. I seem them reading it on the T,” Hallock says. “They rely on the printed newspaper for their information and I just don’t know where they are going to go.”
And while he says he’s disappointed, Hallock has been “discouraged with the direction the P-G has taken with its editorial content.” He says news pages have been diminished and is not producing much of the investigative reporting it has been historically known for. He also points to the firing of editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers last year and the exclusive and steady lean to the right the editorial pages have taken.
“They fire Rob Rogers and replace him with a guy who isn’t even funny in his right-wing cartoons,” Hallock says. “Fifty percent of their editorials are reprints of articles from right-wing publications. Add to that, the fact that I used to spend an hour with the Sunday Post-Gazette and now I’m through it in 10 minutes. When you think about it, I’m not really sure how much we’re really losing. But it is just a further weakening of the American daily journalism market.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that print products will be phased out by the end of 2019. The final date of demise for the company’s print product is, as of yet, not public.