When it comes to the recent, nationwide wave of Black Lives Matter protests, there is a clear demarcation line between who is on the right and who is on the wrong side of history. The owners of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have picked their side—and it ain’t the right one.
According to Post-Gazette energy reporter Anya Litvak, the paper’s management has expanded its muzzling of journalists, telling dozens of reporters who expressed solidarity with black colleagues banned from covering the protests that they have “conflicted out” of covering the largest civil rights story in decades.
The Pittsburgh City Paper, citing numbers provided by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, reports that 82 people have been banned from covering the protests, which have pushed for massive, systemic changes to policing.
The conflict between the paper’s management and its reporters began on May 31, when Alexis Johnson, a black reporter, posted a viral tweet that highlighted the hypocrisy of people voicing concerns about “looting” and destruction of property at the protests.
Johnson says she was pulled aside by management and told that the tweet had raised questions of whether she was “biased,” and that it thus compromised her credibility and that of the newsroom. She was taken off coverage of the protests.
But the barring of black journalists didn’t stop there. Photographer Miguel Santiago, who was part of the paper’s Pulitzer-prize winning team in 2019 for its coverage of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, was also barred from covering the protests last week.
The paper also pulled an article by journalist Ashley Murray without explanation. The article focused on police brutality and proposed reforms.
In solidarity with Johnson, dozens of Post-Gazette reporters retweeted her viral post on Friday. On Monday morning, the Newspaper Guild announced that over 3,000 letters of complaint had been sent to P-G’s management.
“The letters reflect the Guild’s demands: to rescind the ban on Johnson and Santiago; to apologize to them, the staff, and readers; to stop retaliating against their supporters; and to ethically cover the ongoing protests,” writes the City Paper.
Restricting your newsroom from covering one of the single most important stories of the last few years is a serious matter, in and of itself. But make no mistake: by blocking reporters who stood up in support of their black colleagues—reporters who demonstrated both collective solidarity and outrage at the marginalization of their peers—the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is punishing the types of people most qualified to cover the nationwide protests and uprisings. It is punishing black people. People with lived experience—which is to say, knowledge—about discrimination, marginalization, and over-policing. It is punishing people unafraid of supporting their black colleagues. People who are more likely to understand the systemic racism at play, which means people who are more equipped to understand protesters’ demands and how to properly contextualize, frame, and report it.
This is exactly who the Post-Gazette is silencing. And their paper will suffer for it.
“During this week of chaos, it’s clear to see that the vacuum of leadership, moral authority, and ethics proves why millions of people are in the streets protesting. Systemic racism exists,” said Fuoco. “The Post-Gazette is on the wrong side of history, and we are on the right side of history. We have a responsibility to fight for our members, and to fight for nondiscrimination, equality, and journalistic ethics. And we’re going to continue to do that until this is resolved.”