Coming Year Projects to be Contentious at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The end of 2019 brought a significant victory to the members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh when it was announced they had won their ongoing arbitration dispute against the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette over the newspaper’s refusal to pay for healthcare premium increases over the past two years.
But even as Guild members celebrated that win, they continued their battles on several fronts with the newspaper’s owners. The coming year portends to be a contentious one at Pennsylvania’s second-largest newspaper.
The Guild is the labor union representing approximately 150 reporters, editors, photographers and artists working in the PG’s newsroom. Members of the Guild have been working without a new contract since March 2017 and are locked in a heated dispute with the owner of the paper, Block Communications, Inc. over a variety of issues that continue to play out publicly.
In the healthcare premiums case, the arbitrator ruled that Block Communications violated its labor contract with the Guild by raising the cost of its employee’s insurance. The ruling stated that the newspaper must “maintain health insurance levels” under the existing contract and that it “must reimburse employees for costs” that were incurred as a result of the premium increases. After the ruling was announced, Guild President and PG reporter Michael A. Fuoco released a statement saying, “The arbitrator's ruling shows in no uncertain terms that our position was right all along,” and, “Our hope is the Blocks finally wake up and see there will be no union busting . . . the future of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is at stake and we want to save it."
This victory came at a much needed time for the Guild – and there have been other major changes in recent days that could symbolize a glimmer of hope for the paper’s journalists and its readers.
On Jan. 1, the PG announced Karen Kane as its new managing editor. Kane has been a reporter at the paper for decades, covering everything from breaking news to large issues impacting the region. Most recently, Kane served on the PG’s editorial board, wrote columns, and was the deputy managing editor of the opinion section. Her appointment as managing editor means that Keith Burris—who has been a subject of controversy—will no longer serve as both the news and editorial editor. He will continue serving as the PG’s executive editor, as well as vice president and editorial director of Block Newspapers.
I would argue that Kane’s appointment appears to be a positive move on paper’s part—promoting a longtime, well-respected journalist to managing editor of news. But, a few have critiqued Kane’s appointment, focusing on the fact that her most recent position at the PG was in the editorial department, not in news. Kane will be supervising all of the PG’s news reporters and this will require her to remain objective and keep news content free of opinions.
Additionally, on Jan. 10 the PG announced that Tracey DeAngelo has been named vice president and general manager of the Post-Gazette. DeAngelo has worked for Block Communications Inc. since 1997 and most recently served as the newspaper’s chief marketing officer.
That announcement prompted a quick and blunt response from Guild President Fucco who quickly tweeted:
“Congratulations, Tracey. Interesting, though, this "story" makes NO mention of Lisa Hurm being unexpectedly fired as VP/GM yesterday. The @PittsburghPG is littered with management bodies from a Stalinesque purge. God bless @PGNewsGuild protections!”
If Fucco’s tweet and the Guild’s Twitter page prove anything it’s that they will not back down in 2020. They continue to publicly admonish and call out Keith Burris and Block Communications, Inc., particularly on social media. The Guild’s Twitter page is incredibly active and has become the best source of news on this fight as it continues to play out publicly.
Late last year the union ramped up its public awareness campaign. It encouraged readers to directly complain to the paper’s editor and publisher – even providing their email addresses. Guild members handed out leaflets outside of events the paper sponsored.
The union members continue to advocate for themselves with these methods. On Jan. 8, they rallied and handed out fliers outside of a PG-sponsored panel discussion moderated by Burris. The title of the panel discussion was “Are there limits to free speech?”
While the arbitration ruling and the appointment of Kane signify positive steps in the right direction, the Guild’s advocacy efforts appear far from over. Hopefully, the steady stream of stories that continue to come out about the internal dynamics happening at PG will not rival the drama in the stories that appear in the paper’s news sections.
Caitlin O’Connor is a Senior Associate in Ceisler Media's Pittsburgh Office.