An African American reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has been barred from covering protests against the police killing of George Floyd, following her viral tweet comparing protest-related looting to the aftermath of a Kenny Chesney concert.
According to the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which filed a grievance over the move, the company told Alexis Johnson she was being removed from her beat because she could no longer be objective in her coverage of the protests.
Johnson’s Sunday tweet followed a weekend of nationwide protests against police brutality, after a white Minneapolis police officer killed Floyd, a black man, by kneeling on his neck for several minutes. While protesters in Pittsburgh have been largely peaceful, some events have ended in aggressive tactics by police and looting.
Horrifying scenes and aftermath from selfish LOOTERS who don’t care about this city!!!!!
.... oh wait sorry. No, these are pictures from a Kenny Chesney concert tailgate. Whoops. pic.twitter.com/lKRNrBsltU
— Alexis Johnson (@alexisjreports) May 31, 2020
“What she did was not confrontational,” said Guild president Mike Fuoco. “Anybody with a heart of kindness would look upon that and would smile and think about [the message of the tweet]. To take Alexis Johnson off coverage of a movement in expression of grief, pain, a story that she knows by virtue of being a black woman is beyond absurd.”
He said Johnson has the total backing of the union as it fights the decision by management.
Still, Fuoco said, Johnson’s tweet couldn’t have violated policy, because there’s nothing in the union contract about social media. He said there’s just broad “think before you post” guidelines. He said the company tried to include a discipline policy for violating guidelines but the union would not agree to those requests.
“It’s very heavy handed what they did, it wasn’t thought through and to do that to a black reporter, it’s a contractual and racial issue,” Fuoco said. “It doesn’t reflect well on management. We’re not done with this.”
Johnson has yet to be returned to coverage of the protest. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Friday, the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation released a statement condemning the Post-Gazette's decision to remove Johnson from the protest coverage: "To deny the African American reporter the opportunity to cover this news removes an opportunity for the Post-Gazette to present a more fair, nuanced, and informed portrait of what is happening in local communities."
The statement goes on: "More so, the Federation is baffled by the management’s justification used for removal. Johnson’s social media communications was from her private Twitter account. It was there that she raised a question and offered a comparison that challenged stereotypes. There was no malicious bias and nothing to suggest her reporting would be compromised or slanted if she continued telling the story of the protests. The Federation is in sharp disagreement with the action taken by the Post-Gazette’s managing editor."
This story was updated on 6/5/20 at 1:55 p.m. to include a statement from the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation. PBMF treasurer Ariel Worthy is a reporter/producer at WESA; PMBF president Brian Cook is a contributor to WESA.