Union backs black journalists in Pittsburgh who say they've been barred from covering protests

"Allow these black journalists to cover the most monumental civil rights movement in more than 50 years," the petition says.
Image: US-POLITICS-RACE-UNREST
Protesters in Pittsburgh at a demonstration against racism and police brutality on Saturday, June 6, 2020.MARANIE R. STAAB / AFP - Getty Images

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By Tim Stelloh

A newspaper union in Pennsylvania launched a petition Sunday demanding that The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette reverse a "ban" barring black journalists from covering protests over the death of George Floyd.

The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh started the petition after a reporter, Alexis Johnson, tweeted several photos last week of a trash-strewn parking lot and joked that they showed "horrifying scenes" from "selfish looters who don't care about this city!!!!!"

She added that they were actually from a tailgate gathering at a Kenny Chesney concert.

The Post-Gazette removed her from its protest coverage because "they felt I showed bias publicly," Johnson said on MSNBC's "AM Joy."

Johnson said editors talked with other reporters about their social media use, including a white male journalist who was still allowed to cover the protests.

"I was the only one who was told that I couldn't cover the protests," she said.

Full coverage of George Floyd's death and protests around the country

Union representatives filed a grievance in Johnson's behalf, the guild said, but the managing editor and others at the paper refused to reinstate her. By Friday, other reporters in the newsroom were tweeting support with the hashtag #IStandWithAlexis.

The union said stories about the protest from two reporters who had tweeted support for Johnson then vanished from the newspaper's website.

"Queries to management were met with silence," the union said. "To us, the cause and effect is clear."

A black photojournalist, Michael Santiago, was also barred from covering a demonstration after he tweeted support, he told MSNBC. The union claimed that after managers told several guild members that the protests would no longer be covered, stories scheduled for Saturday were spiked without explanation.

The petition asked the paper to rescind the restrictions and "allow these black journalists to cover the most monumental civil rights movement in more than 50 years."

Managing Editor Karen Kane didn't respond to a request for comment Sunday. She declined to comment to The Associated Press, saying the newspaper's editor couldn't speak on personnel matters.