NO REDO NEEDED — THIS TIME, IT’S OFFICIAL
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
Who could forget the events that transpired in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6?
As a journalist, Lacretia Wimbley was glued to her cell phone, glued to the television inside her North Side residence, as her Pittsburgh Post-Gazette colleagues also watched from afar supporters of former President Donald Trump storming the U.S. Capitol building. It was a sight unseen, complete with defiance, destruction and death. Trump supporters were protesting the presidential election results that showed Joe Biden was the clear victor over Trump. The insurrection, as it was widely described, didn’t change any results. When the smoke cleared (literally), the electoral votes were confirmed by Congress, deep into the night.
But Jan. 6 holds another meaning for Wimbley, the 28-year-old breaking news reporter for Pittsburgh’s largest newspaper organization. Late that afternoon, members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, of which Wimbley is a member, held a membership meeting. Three members were nominated to become the next Guild president—Andrew Goldstein, Melissa Tkach and Wimbley.
Wimbley, who is African American, was just one favorable election away from becoming president of the Guild.
But she had gone through this once before.
Following the abrupt resignation of Michael Fuoco as Guild president in September 2020, a special election ensued in November 2020 for his replacement. Wimbley, to the delight of some and the ire of others, defeated her opponent, Tkach, who is White, by a 55-52 margin.
Wimbley did it. She was president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh…
After just six days as president, the Guild’s election committee announced it had discovered “two irregularities in the conduct of the mail-in ballot election,” and Ed Blazina, who had been interim president, returned to the role as interim president. The election committee decided to hold a new election, which sent Wimbley steaming.
She addressed the union members in an email (which was first reported by the online publication “Payday Report”), saying that “I have never felt so disrespected and unappreciated in my life—simply for trying to make a positive contribution to our union and adequately serve our members.”
Wimbley also said she felt the election “was stolen” from her, as she questioned “the integrity of the process regarding the timing of discovery of errors made, the incoherency of information provided to me initially, and the lack of legal knowledge and experience regarding conducting fair and mistake-proof elections.”
The Guild later said officially that the procedural missteps included “a violation of the U.S. Department of Labor rules that require ballots for local union officer elections to be sent to a secure post office box. Secondly, 33 of 107 total votes arrived in outer envelopes that lacked a voter’s name, signature or a return address.” The Guild said those 33 votes were not allowed to be counted.
Wimbley stopped short of claiming that she felt the election was stolen from her because of her ethnicity. But overall, the topic of race has plagued the Post-Gazette over the past nine months. In June 2020, a Black reporter at the PG, Alexis Johnson, was banned from covering the local protests related to the George Floyd death in Minneapolis because of a Tweet she wrote, which top editors at the paper deemed showed bias. When another Black employee, photojournalist Michael Santiago, retweeted Johnson’s original Tweet, which showed a correlation between protest destruction and destruction left after a mostly-White Kenny Chesney concert at Heinz Field, he was banned from covering the protests, too.
The decisions made by now-former top newsroom editors Keith Burris and Karen Kane were met with strong opposition, not only from the local Newspaper Guild, but the Guild’s parent group, the Communications Workers of America. Grocery chain Giant Eagle stopped selling the Post-Gazette in its dozens of local outlets, including GetGo locations. Blend it all with the miniscule number of Black employees at the newspaper and PG Publisher John Robinson Block’s open support for Trump, and the Post-Gazette wasn’t going to be on anyone’s list of “champions for diversity” awards last year.
Both Santiago and Johnson decided to leave the Post-Gazette, and as of Feb. 17, Giant Eagle still isn’t selling the PG.
Wimbley has had a front row seat to watch all of this unfold. She knows how some members of Pittsburgh’s Black community feel about the Post-Gazette (here’s a hint: it’s not positive). She knows that, in addition to her, when she looks around the PG newsroom, there’s stalwart columnist Tony Norman, business reporter Tim Grant, and sports reporter Nbuyjas Wilborn as the only Black full-time reporters left. There are five additional African American staff members in the newsroom in various positions.
The Courier has learned that there currently are no African Americans in any upper-management roles at the Post-Gazette.
Tyler Batiste, who is Black, left his position as assistant managing editor/sports in November 2020.
After initially not wanting to run again for the Guild presidency, Wimbley gathered her collective thoughts, and found that the desire was still there to effect change, to place her fellow union members in a better position than they’ve had in years.
“I’m very compassionate about our efforts and goals as a union and I care about our members,” Wimbley told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, Feb. 5.
Turns out, the second time around was the charm for Wimbley.
Following the Jan. 6 Guild membership meeting, both Goldstein and Tkach declined their nominations for president. Wimbley accepted hers. On Jan. 25 at 5 p.m., Wimbley officially was named president of the Guild—again.
And this time, there’s no dispute. No redo. No recount. No “hanging chads.”
Wimbley will serve out the remainder of Fuoco’s 2020-21 term, ending Oct. 31, 2021.
She’s off to the ground running, figuring out ways to bring the union and PG ownership closer to a new contract, which the Guild hasn’t secured since the last contract expired in 2017. “This is ridiculous,” Wimbley said in a Feb. 8 statement released by the Guild,
“because there’s no reason the company shouldn’t be willing to negotiate in good faith with us. The legacy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is truly hanging in the balance.”
Norman, the longtime columnist and book review editor for the Post-Gazette, told the Courier on Feb. 15 that Wimbley will be an “exceptionally empathetic and goal-oriented leader” of the Guild.
“She is also mindful of the need for consensus as well as moral clarity when the stakes are as high as they are. Lacretia is going to bring both optimism and realism to the negotiating table. She’ll be a ‘Factor X’ as far as the Blocks are concerned because they’ve never dealt with anyone like her before. Neither has the union, to tell the truth. She’s a fresh new chapter in a very old book when it comes to labor/management relations at the PG.”
LACRETIA WIMBLEY made history as a junior at Mississippi State University, becoming the first African American to lead the independent student newspaper, The Reflector. (Photo by Russ Houston/MSU)
Wimbley, in an interview with the Courier, said she is confident in her abilities to lead the way for the roughly 120 members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh. She’s been with the Post-Gazette since 2016, when she came to Pittsburgh from the Magnolia State, Mississippi. Born and raised in Jackson, Wimbley graduated from Mississippi State University, while making some history of her own. As a junior at MSU, she became the first African American editor-in-chief of the independent student newspaper, The Reflector.
Now fully entrenched in the Steel City, Wimbley is spearheading the efforts of the Guild in what it calls a continuous “fight” with PG ownership that centers around three major pillars: Respecting union journalists, strengthening local news in the region, and creating an inclusive newsroom which reflects the community that Guild journalists represent.
“After everything happened with Alexis (Johnson) being barred from protest coverage over the summer, there was hesitancy on my part in running for Guild president,” Wimbley told the Courier exclusively. “But in thinking further about it, I was more focused on the bigger picture. If anything, it’s because of what happened with Alexis and our paper’s owners endorsing Trump…that I felt an even greater need to rise to the occasion and to go for it, because we need people of color in leadership. We need people of color to be included in rooms and to have their voices heard.”
Norman, who is easily the Post-Gazette’s most recognizable African American staffer and one of the most widely-read columnists at the PG overall, told the Courier that “the general perception about the PG among Black and minority journalists across the country is that this is a terrible place to work for Black folks. I hope Lacretia’s presidency of the Guild begins to counteract that perception.”