Post-Gazette under fire for publisher’s recent actions

02/21/2019

Kailey Love | editor-in-chief

According to the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, the union that represents Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters, an incident that occurred on Feb. 8 involving the paper’s publisher and co-owner John Block caused employees to fear for their safety.

According to a press release from the Guild with detailed eyewitness accounts, Block came to the newsroom at approximately 10 p.m., clearly “intoxicated” with his young daughter in tow, and began “ranting like a madman” about various different topics. He was particularly irate about a sign on a Guild bulletin board that read, “Shame on the Blocks!”

According to eyewitness Marianne Mizera, a web editor, “He shouted that he wanted a picture of himself and his daughter taken in front of the Guild sign and demanded it run on the ‘front page of tomorrow’s paper.’ He fervently demanded the photos be taken NOW, right away and forcefully grabbed his daughter’s forearm, pulling her into the picture as she tried her best to pull away from him. She was crying, shaking and pleading with her father that she did NOT want to be in ANY photograph.”

The eyewitness accounts detailed that Block went on to yell about his ex-wife, firing certain Guild officers, threatening to terminate employees unless they “ceased engaging in union or other protected concerted activity” and money loss.

A statement made to NEXTPittsburgh on Feb. 12 by Allan Block, John’s twin brother, said, “The frustration over financial and other challenges in the newspaper industry led to an unfortunate exchange with employees of which I have been made aware.”

“Block Communications regrets if anyone present may have misconstrued what occurred as anything other than an indication of strong concern and support for the legacy and future of the
Post-Gazette … we want the entire staff to know that we will continue to value all of our employees and their contributions to the PG,” Allan Block said.

The Guild’s press release addressed and then refuted this statement.

“There was no ‘unfortunate exchange.’ Nothing was ‘misconstrued.’ And there is no Guild member who feels that BCI executives ‘value’ them. To blame John Block’s erratic, menacing and disturbing conduct on ‘financial and other challenges in the newspaper industry’ is cowardly, despicable and a blatant lie,” the statement said.

On Feb. 13, the Guild filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the Post-Gazette based on Block’s actions on Saturday night. However, according to Jonathan Silver, the unit chairman of the Guild, Block showed up for work the same day.

In a tweet, Silver stated, “Publisher John Robinson Block, with Keith Burris for his escort, has just entered the newsroom for the first time since Saturday night. He has not issued an apology for his conduct. He seems oblivious to the fallout of his actions.”

Burris, the Post-Gazette’s editorial director, was elevated to the position of executive editor of the paper by Block on Feb. 18, placing him in charge of the paper’s news coverage. He will still retain his position overseeing the opinion pages as editorial director in addition to his new position, according to a photo of the announcement tweeted out by Silver.

Burris, who has overseen the controversial editorial page for the past year, was responsible for the “Reason as Racism” piece that ran in January of last year defending President Trump’s comments about “shithole countries.” Both Burris and Block confirmed in an interview with the Yale Daily News later that month that Burris penned the editorial.

In an opinions piece for Pittsburgh Current, editor Charlie Deitch stated, “When people talk about the paper in the future, they’ll make note that Feb. 18, 2019 was the day that John Robinson Block killed the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette” regarding Block’s decision to promote Burris.

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