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From the editor: How we’re referring to the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, and why

Memorials outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, where members of three congregations worshipped.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

With jury selection scheduled to begin next week in the trial of the man charged with killing 11 Jewish worshippers in an attack on a Squirrel Hill synagogue in 2018, media coverage of the case — by WESA and other newsrooms in Pittsburgh and beyond — will ramp up accordingly in the days ahead.

The victims belonged to three congregations that worshipped within the Tree of Life synagogue: Congregation Dor Hadash, New Light Congregation and Tree of Life / Or L'Simcha. The attack, in which six people also were wounded, is believed to represent the deadliest antisemitic assault in U.S. history.

The gunman’s trial is expected to last for as long as three months, and WESA journalists plan to cover developments in the courtroom — as well as their impact on survivors of the shooting, the loved ones of those who lost their lives and the community we share.

In preparation for that coverage, our newsroom has adopted a policy to amend and formalize the language we now use in our reporting on the air and online to refer to the attack as “the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings.”

Alternatively, listeners and readers may hear us reference “the shootings at Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, where members of three congregations worshipped.”

This policy recognizes that members of three congregations were involved in the event and not just those from Tree of Life. In doing so, we aim to avoid — even inadvertently — negating the losses of survivors, family members, and other members of Congregation Dor Hadash and New Light Congregation.

We acknowledge and regret that in past coverage we have used the phrase “Tree of Life” to reference the attack — particularly in radio reports and digital headlines, which are limited to a finite amount of time or text characters.

In doing so, we fell short in our coverage in a way that did not adequately convey the scope or impact of that horrible event. While we did not intend harm with this phrasing, intention does not excuse outcome — that we caused pain to survivors of the attack, as well as relatives and friends who lost loved ones from Congregation Dor Hadash and New Light Congregation.

In heartfelt communication with us in recent weeks, several of those people have explained how their experiences and losses are eclipsed by the use of that commonly used phrase.

To them, I can only offer my sincerest apology on behalf of our newsroom — and our deep gratitude for their grace in sharing this feedback and their faith that it will guide us to do better by them and our community in our future reports.

This feedback is beyond price, and it guides and holds us accountable to the community we endeavor to serve.

Cindi Lash joined Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting in 2021 from Missouri Lawyers Media, a subsidiary of BridgeTower Media, where she began her tenure as editor and regional editor in 2018. Before joining BridgeTower, she served as editor-in-chief at Pittsburgh Magazine for four years, and as regional editor of local news startup She previously spent 20 years as a reporter and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.