According to a source, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette union members secretly plan to walk off their jobs and start their own paper. This news comes days after PG Newsroom voted “No Confidence“ in their publisher Block Communications, Inc. (BCI) followed by a byline strike. The plan is fueled by the fear of uncertainty within membership and loss of newsroom staff.
A journalist with over a decade of experience spoke to Jekko on earlier this week the condition of anonymity explaining the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PG) Newsroom is planning to walk out. At that time, the source said that staffers will announce the founding of a new newspaper as a spiritual successor to the Post-Gazette. A printing facility has already been chosen. Senior PG columnists were named as being involved and endorsing the process. Lastly, the source says a former PG editor will be brought on board as the editor-in-chief for the yet-to-be-named publication.
The tip came ahead of the holiday weekend, when employees were likely to inform their families.
Clarification: The employees involved seem to be planning the new publication independent of the Newspaper Guild. The Guild has denied knowledge and involvement. This article reflects the plans of those employees provided by our source. Jekko would like to clarify that these journalists are starting a new news outlet. It would not be a strike.
An Abbreviated History of the Post-Gazette
The paper dates back to 1786 when The Pittsburgh Gazette‘s first major report was on the new Constitution of the United States. Regionally, news media was a competitive and profitable industry throughout the twentieth century. In the 1920’s there was a consolidation of the morning papers under publisher Paul Block. This result was the introduction of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette name in 1927. Under the name, the PG Newsroom would go on to win Pulitzer Prizes in 1934, 1998, and 2019.
The success of the Post-Gazette gave Block Communications, Inc. the ability to expand into broadcast news. From 1980-2001, WDRB, KTRV, WAND, and WFTE were added to their media portfolio. BCI’s other holdings, including The Toledo Blade, primarily serves the Ohio region, whereas the PG is the largest print publication serving Western Pennsylvania. Collectively, BCI media holdings reports $564M in revenue and millions in profits in 2018 alone.
Like most newspapers, the national downturn of print publications significantly impacted the Post-Gazette. Since Block Communications, Inc. is a family owned and operated business, John Robinson Block has taken a passionate interest in making the newspaper thrive once again. However, his particular methods are at odds with the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh/CWA 38061 that was established in 1934. The union is an essential part of the PG’s history and the BCI family. As with any family feud, both sides have history of disagreement.
Block Communications, Inc. has not responded to Jekko’s request for comment.
We’re in the Endgame Now
The union’s last press release claimed BCI has, “…created a culture of fear, hostility, and intimidation in the newsroom.” In addition, working conditions have stagnated or have deteriorated. The PG Newsroom staff has not received a raise in 14 years, their health care benefits have been cut, and pensions have been frozen.
To make matters worse, John Block is said to regularly impose his conservative viewpoints on a traditionally liberal newsroom. The conflict and layoffs are now political in nature. The best example is the firing of editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers over his negative depictions of President Trump. Earlier this year, a reportedly intoxicated John Block barged into the PG Newsroom to rant at employees about a pro-union poster. The event has caused many employees to reconsider the safety of the workplace.
All signs point to John Block waging a war of attrition against the Post-Gazette newsroom.
In 2008, the union represented approximately 1,000 employees. After an 85% reduction in staff over the last decade, the union claims to represent 139 journalists at the time of publication. 16 journalists have left the newspaper over the last six months. BCI announced earlier this month said that it intends to lay off another 30 union members. The union filed legal action to block the layoffs and according to Law 360, District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan said on Wednesday the PG can’t layoff workers or cut hours. Although the contracts expired, the PG operates under an implied contract with the union and should, “honor its grievance and arbitration procedures.”
According to our source, it was these conditions that triggered the PG Newsroom members to finally consider a walking out and starting their own paper.
The Future of Pittsburgh Papers
The employees identified by our source have not responded to Jekko’s request for comment. A former PG employee explained, “If there was a secret to be kept in Pittsburgh, these are the people who could do it.”
We spoke to a current PG reporter who said they had no knowledge of the plans. However, the reporter did not discount the story and was excited by the prospect, speculating that organizers were operating on a need-to-know basis in fear of retaliation.
As a result, Jekko has chosen not to name the organizers.
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh’s President Michael A. Fuoco was reached by phone for comment. Shock was audible in his voice… “I know nothing about this. The union has no plans at present to do anything like that.” A union sanctioned walkout would require a union vote and approval by the Communications Workers of America.
After Jekko reassured Fuoco we believe our source to be credible, he continued, “However, should the Post-Gazette declare an impasse in negotiations, and impose their last best offer, we will have to look at the possibility of filing an unfair labor practice and doing what none of what of us want to do… which is to walk off the jobs we love.”