Johnson is second Black journalist to leave PG in four months
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
The game of “musical chairs” is being played at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Certain editors are no longer in their positions, while another Black journalist, Alexis Johnson, ultimately has decided to leave the paper.
Quietly, the region’s largest newspaper reassigned managing editor Karen Kane to deputy editorial director, which was first reported by the Pittsburgh City Paper in late September.
And Keith Burris, the PG’s executive editor, is executive editor no more. He is now the vice president and editorial director of Block Newspapers, the ownership group of the Post-Gazette. Stan Wischnowski is now the executive editor of the Post-Gazette, a highly-respected individual in the journalism and newspaper industry, who formerly was the executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Wischnowski is in charge of the local newsroom; Burris and Kane no longer are part of the local newsroom.
While it’s unclear the reason for the reassignments of Burris and Kane, Post-Gazette upper management had been feeling the heat from the inside and outside since early June after Burris and Kane did not permit Johnson, a reporter, and Black photographer Michael Santiago, to cover protests happening in Pittsburgh after the George Floyd death in Minneapolis in May. Burris and Kane said that a tweet Johnson had sent from her private account showed bias, and that because of her tweet, she couldn’t objectively cover the multiple protests.
Johnson maintained her tweet didn’t show bias, and that a White reporter who subsequently showed bias in a tweet was not disciplined.
Santiago was banned because he showed support for Johnson via his Twitter account by retweeting Johnson’s original tweet. The union representing the Post-Gazette employees fully backed Johnson and Santiago, and demanded that Johnson and Santiago be allowed to cover the protests.
The Post-Gazette never wavered in its decision, prompting a wave of backlash locally and nationally, and causing Giant Eagle to no longer sell the PG print editions in its locations.
Santiago left the paper in June. And while the PG recently reassigned Burris and Kane, Johnson ultimately decided she had enough, too. The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned that Johnson recently left the Post-Gazette after being employed there roughly two years. Johnson announced on Twitter on Oct. 14 that she had joined Vice News Tonight as an on-air TV correspondent working with the Washington, D.C., bureau.
“I can’t say enough how pumped I am for this opportunity, and I’m so thankful for the journey that led me here!” Johnson wrote on Twitter.
THE POST-GAZETTE’S RICK NOWLIN, left, is among the many guild members protesting Post-Gazette publisher John Robinson Block for not giving PG guild members a raise in 14 years.
The PG Newspaper Guild continues to contemplate going on strike, as they publicly bash the newspaper’s publisher, John Robinson Block, and the Block family that owns the Post-Gazette. The guild has publicly denounced Block for not negotiating in good faith with the guild and not providing guild members a raise in 14 years.
And although Johnson no longer works for the Post-Gazette, she’s still got her eye on the newspaper. She filed a federal lawsuit against the PG in June, alleging the Post-Gazette was engaging in racial discrimination and illegal retaliation.
Johnson said she was playfully displaying photos of a Kenny Chesney concert in her tweet, where the mostly-White crowd had left piles of trash near Heinz Field during tailgating. At first, she described the trash scenery as part of the racially-charged protests, but then revealed the photos were from a Kenny Chesney concert.
“The Johnson Tweet was intended to—and did—mock, ridicule and protest discrimination against African Americans by society in general and by Whites who equate property damage with human life,” the suit read, according to an Associated Press report.
The lawsuit said Johnson had suffered mental anguish, emotional strain, humiliation and diminished career advancement because of her employers.
POST-GAZETTE LOSES BOTH—First, Black photojournalist Michael Santiago, left, decided to leave the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette over being banned from covering protests in the city in May and June. Now, Black reporter Alexis Johnson, right, has decided to do the same. She now works for Vice News Tonight. (Photos by Courier photographer J.L. Martello)