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Over the weekend, it came to light that Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (also known as PG) has chosen to remove and ban at least two of its Black staff contributors from covering the current wave of actions protesting police brutality, citing “bias” in their reporting.
Though the newspaper does not have an official social media policy, according to the Washington Post, Post-Gazette employees say reporter Alexis Johnson was singled out because of a tweet. Last week, Johnson poked fun at the outrage over looting by mislabeling the trashed parking lot following a Kenny Chesney concert as recent acts of “looting,” drawing a parallel to the media treatment between the two instances. The tweet got incredible pickup, garnering 181K+ likes since it was posted.
Horrifying scenes and aftermath from selfish LOOTERS who don’t care about this city!!!!!
…. oh wait sorry. No, these are pictures from a Kenny Chesney concert tailgate. Whoops. pic.twitter.com/lKRNrBsltU
— Alexis Johnson (@alexisjreports) May 31, 2020
PG photographer Michael M. Santiago — part of the newspaper’s 2019 Pulitzer Prize-winning team — also spoke out, saying the newspaper had removed and altered articles, reporting protests and police brutality, that featured his photographs.
Just like @alexisjreports I have been barred from covering any protest related stories. @PittsburghPG has chosen to silence two of it most prominent Black journalist during one of the most important civil rights stories that is happening across our country! https://t.co/ppIHrAyiOd
— Michael M. Santiago (@msantiagophotos) June 6, 2020
The cause was taken up by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which released and circulated a statement yesterday calling the logic that barred Johnson from reporting “absurd and specious,” and identifying that “the move stifled one of the few black reporters at the paper.”
“The only bias that is being shown is by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette management,” said a spokesperson for the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh during a press conference today, broadcast live on Instagram. “It’s clear to see that the vacuum of leadership, moral authority, and ethics exhibited by Post-Gazette management proves why millions of people are in the street protesting: systemic racism exists.”
“I thought it was thought-provoking, and I was told that I violated a social media policy,” said Johnson, during the press conference, “which in fact doesn’t exist. It was just a set of guidelines that the Guild never agreed to. So I really did take it personally.”
Today, the Guild issued a formal list of demands to the Post-Gazette:
Rescind your ban and allow these Black journalists to cover the most monumental civil rights movement in more than 50 years.
Stop retaliating against their supporters.
Fulfill your mission by adequately and ethically covering the protests and related issues.
So far, the Guild has recorded 3,700 letters in support of these demands.
Johnson appeared on NPR, just one of several venues who say the stifling of Black journalists in protest coverage is a symptom of the very racism the protests are staged to address.
“They [Post-Gazette editors] kept doubling down, saying I gave my opinion through the tweet and that my opinion came through in the tweet,” said Johnson, to NPR. “And I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think people made their own opinions of what I was trying to say. I thought it was kind of clever.”
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