Opinion

What’s in a Name

By December 10, 2019 No Comments

By The Pittsburgh Current
info@pittsburghcurrent.com

 

In HBO’s new series Watchmen, police officers in this dystopian parallel universe cover their faces so “bad guys” can’t identify them and the cops are allowed to operate unchecked by the public. That kind of anonymity is dangerous to the public trust.

Now, this isn’t a column about police misconduct, but I couldn’t help but think about the show this past week as the staff edited this edition of the Pittsburgh Current. We announced a couple of weeks ago that we would be publishing this issue without bylines and credits to show our solidarity with employees of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who are entering the fourth week of an indefinite byline strike. The action was voluntary but we got 100 percent participation (sans our cartoon pages as most of the strips have identifiers built-in) from staffers and freelance writers to former P-G editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers, who draws “Brewed on Grant.” Our columnist, Sue Kerr’s blog “Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents” will also publish without credit lines this week.

In protest of the “mistreatment of union members and managers by PG Executive Editor Keith Burris, Publisher John Robinson Block and his twin Allan Block, chairman of Toledo-based PG owner Block Communications Inc,” newsroom members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh have been on a byline strike since November 20. In the first seven days of the action, which took place after the union held a unanimous “no-confidence vote” against Block and Burris, 313 bylines and credit lines have been withheld. 

In March, P-G newsroom employees will have been working without a contract for three years, they haven’t had a raise in 14 years and have had their healthcare benefits hacked annually. Add that to working daily in a hostile environment and it’s easy to see how employees have arrived at this point. 

“We are unified and resolute in protest of the unprecedented, unconscionable atmosphere of fear, hostility, and intimidation that Burris and the Blocks have created in the North Shore newsroom and we stand united in our quest for economic justice,” union head and veteran P-G reporter Mike Fuoco said in a recent press release. He also called the actions by the Blocks and Burris, “shameful and despicable.”

The treatment that P-G employees have endured in all departments goes well beyond tense labor negotiations. Forget about the nearly decade-and-a-half without a raise, and decreasing health benefits. There have been open acts of intimidation from a late-night weekend newsroom tirade by John Block to the recent dismissal/forced resignations of the editorial’s best leaders. Many Employees who were part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning newsroom are no longer there.  Block brought in Burris to help complete an editorial page transition to a full-on Trumpian fish wrap that included firing Rogers, before naming Burris earlier this year as the paper’s executive editor. In addition, the paper recently attempted to layoff or reduce hours and benefits for most of its Teamster-represented employees before a federal judge blocked the paper from doing so the day before Thanksgiving.

So, in response, employees decided to make a statement by protesting working conditions the only way they could, by withholding their bylines. What does that mean? P=G writer and one of the finest journalists I’ve ever known, Rich Lord explained this way on Twitter: “We care about our bylines because they reflect our accountability and our personal commitment to informing the community.” 

A byline is an extremely important thing to people in our business; pulling it off of our stories is not a gesture entered into lightly. The Blocks apparently seem to think they don’t need journalists, why else would the treat them with kind of malice and lack of respect. So, as you read our paper this week and the Post-Gazette, really look hard at the nameless stories, photos, and graphics. A byline lets you know that the person who wrote the article stands behind it. A journalist presents you with a story, without us, you’d be left with just words.

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